by playwright and director Morris Panych
In the four years since I started writing The Shoplifters, the language has changed, the characters, the story; but one thing has remained — the spirit of enterprise, the simple but eloquent statement made by hundreds of thousands of people every day … ‘I want something.’
Shoplifting is as popular with old people as it is with young. An episode of This American Life, (episode 135 if you want to check it out) interviewed people who stole for different reasons; often compelling and almost always in some way understandable, because although we live in a capitalist system and recognize that it’s probably the only one that works, we also recognize that it’s unfair, much the way that life is unfair. And yet, when we deal with crimes of theft from a legal perspective, we condemn them all universally, as if there were no reasons, no mitigating circumstances, and increasingly there is a call to take an even harder, more pragmatic position against all crime.
This play is not a case for social justice. Politics is not my thing; not in writing anyway. An odd thing to say here in Washington, DC, but there is enough politics in theater and enough theater in politics, that any more comedy is simply redundant. We all recognize the inherent imbalance of the system we live in; and sometimes we secretly applaud the evening of the score. My hope is that by bringing focus to this one little grocery store enterprise, we can somehow draw a larger picture of the world and how peculiar and bizarre it really is, in its attempts to categorize and control human behavior.
People will act of their own accord. The ground shifts and, perhaps, the law should shift with it. At its edges, this story is absurd and almost surreal; but, at its center, it is very real and very present. The elements of the production, likewise, create a juxtaposition of the real and the unreal. You will sense that you are in a world you know intimately and are also completely estranged from; that life is brief and sad and funny, and we’re all stuck in a backroom, somewhere, trying to explain — if to nobody but ourselves — the reasons we act, either good or bad, and in spite of all the consequences.