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Hedy Weiss: ‘Hamilton’ might have moved Pence more sans lecture

Cast members from "Hamilton" sing at the PrivateBank Theatre. | Joan Marcus

By now the news has spread far and wide about how both the Broadway and Chicago productions of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” became the site of “protests” from both sides of the political spectrum in recent days, with the audience, as well as the actors (in New York), tinkering with “the fourth wall.” So here are a few of my thoughts about the whole thing. They are bound to irritate some and, I hope, make others think about the best way to move forward — not only to curtail “copycat” incidents in the theater, but also to affect developments far beyond the theater in the coming months.

The beauty, the magic and the brilliance of “Hamilton” is that it has been able to inspire so many people to think about things they might have slept through in school, or failed to consider as the recent presidential election was unfolding. The show homes in on this country’s founding mythology by looking at the deeply flawed, complicated, furiously embattled men (yes, the gender bias was there from the start) who crafted this country in its infancy. And of course by extension it makes us look at this moment in our history in a fresh way.

But the theater is a sacred and transformational space, and during the course of those few precious hours between the moment the lights dim to the time they come up again, nothing else should interfere with the spell a show casts. As William Congreve reminded us, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” And who knows how an uninterrupted performance of “Hamilton” might have triggered some new thought, some slight shift in empathy, some fresh understanding in even the most ideological member of the audience?

So, while I oppose almost everything this new administration stands for (aside from infrastructure repair) and admittedly cast my vote for the electoral loser in the race, I think both the New York audience protests and the emotional, carefully worded speech from the stage aimed at Vice President-elect Mike Pence were mistakes. How or why he went to see “Hamilton” in the first place remains a mystery. But perhaps, had he been allowed to just absorb the message of the musical, he might have been changed, if only in the most minute and imperceptible ways. Now, like a bull reacting to a red cape, any possibility of the show itself for serving as an agent of positive change or a subtle awakening in Pence has been lost forever. A missed opportunity, and a pity.

The Chicago incident, which appears to have involved a man who was at the theater with his wife and two kids — and no doubt had a few too many drinks before curtain — is more trivial. You can speculate that he may have voted for Donald Trump, and perhaps had engaged in one too many conversations with friends or relatives who berated him for his choice. Either way, he is not a major policy maker, so his transformation is of less importance. But again, a missed opportunity.

I think it is for Hamlet, not Hamilton, to have the last words on the whole matter: “The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”