A colleague asked me the other day whether there was a character in Shakespeare to compare to disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose New York mayoral campaign has spun out of control with salacious revelations that you’ll have to read about elsewhere. Let’s just say it wouldn’t surprise me if the ring tone on Weiner’s cellphone was a loop of Barry White moaning.
Weiner is such a television phenomenon, a moth whose wings are heat-glued to the camera, that I think his story would more readily serve as fodder for one of those cable channels that loves picking the bones of celebrities who have crashed and burned. All that’s needed is a chorus of D-list talking heads to crack wise while clucking shock and disapproval.
Broadway might be a little too confining for a man with such a lusty appetite for publicity. Weiner wants to convert the whole world into his stage. He’d hate having his antics relegated to a single theater, even one eligible for Tony consideration. But Broadway audiences would thrill to see the dark comedy of this impolitic politician reenacted on the Great White Way.
But what great dramatist past or present could write it?
Now “Shakespearean” isn’t the first word that springs to mind when considering Weiner’s proclivities. His refusal to get out of the campaign and retreat into the media-darkened wilderness, however, could get him cast as a kind of burlesque Macbeth. If we were privy to one of Weiner’s late-night soliloquies, we might very well hear him mouthing the following in bed while his wife, Huma Abedin, tossed restlessly beside him: “I am in bawdiness/Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o'er.”
No, we will have to look elsewhere for an author of this immorality tale. Tennessee Williams, who had his own troubles with impulse control and could resist anything but temptation, would certainly have insights into Weiner’s alter ego, Carlos Danger. In “Summer and Smoke,” Alma, Williams’ sensitive, spinster protagonist, is diagnosed by the young dissolute doctor she’s madly in love with as having a “doppelganger.”
“You have a doppelganger and the doppelganger is badly irritated,” he says to her great consternation.
The doctor is a sly ironist, but it turns out his medical intuition is uncanny: By the end of the play, Alma will be popping pills (“The prescription number is 96814. I think of it as the telephone number of God!”) and picking up strange men in the park.
Williams would no doubt have had great sympathy for Weiner’s wife, humiliated yet loyal to a man manifestly unworthy of her, like so many of the playwright’s unforgettable heroines. But I’m not convinced that lyrical tragedy, even one with Williams’ florid melodramatic color, is the way to go theatrically.
My preference for this saga is farce, and I wish someone would commission Christopher Durang to start writing it immediately. This is a 21st century media story, in which the only thing that matters is the spotlight. The pace must be relentless, the details must be depraved and the plot doesn’t so much resolve as collapse in panting exhaustion.
Best of all, Durang, who is riding high after his recent Tony win for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” has a gift for pointing out how people get hurt even when they’re moving too fast to feel any pain. He’d give us a “Weiner Agonistes” that would kill us with laughter but haunt us later with an unexpected yet not misplaced pity.