“Kill the Koch Brothers,” a grade school play

“Kill the Koch Brothers”, a Grade School Play

(In honor of COP24, and Katowice, Poland 2018, Bleak Beauty is re-posting its 2014 satire)

I was seated in the front row of the theater at the Lab School of the University of Chicago anxiously awaiting the start of the Thanksgiving play when I was horrified to see printed on the cover of the program the title “Kill the Koch Brothers” a play by Ava Lyon,” my then 10-year-old granddaughter.

“Stop the play!” I shouted, leaping from my seat. The chorus, a line of nine year-olds, stared down at me from the stage.
“You cannot do this!” I yelled.
“Why not?” answered a child, the shortest in the line.
“Why not? Why not?” echoed the chorus. I must say they looked pretty cute standing there chanting.
“Because it is incendiary,” I answered.
“It’s a satire,” answered Mrs. Weinberg, the drama teacher. Her head stuck out from behind a curtain. “Like Jonathan Swift,” she threw in.
“It’s a comedy,” added one of the nine year-olds.
“Swift? Really? For children? I had no idea. Is it violent?”
“You mean like Hamlet?” answered Mrs. Weinberg.
“It is non-violent,” said the same short nine year-old girl from the chorus.
“Non-violent! Non-violent!” chanted the chorus in a manner I would call threatening.
Someone in the back yelled “Shut up!”
“Shut up! Shut up!” echoed the chorus
“Well I think you are all way out of line,” I said as I sat back down and the play began.

A teenager in a wheelchair rolled himself from left to right across the stage, a large sign hanging from the side of his chair reading, “Act One” as everyone, but myself, applauded. Then, as I watched with pride, the children’s chorus created a space and out stepped young Ava, walking with great dignity to the very edge of the stage. Blazoned across her black tee shirt were the words printed in block letters, “I will live to be one hundred.”
“The Earth is dying,” said Ava, the first words of the play.
“Greed!” said the 9-year-old.
“Greed! Greed! Greed!” chanted the chorus.
“We will all choke to death,” said Ava.
Then she coughed three times and said, “Democracy will collapse.”
“Greed, greed, greed,” said the chorus.
“There is no greater cause than to save the planet, to save Mother Earth, our home.”
“Democracy will collapse,” repeated the small child. “We will all choke to death.”
“Death,” repeated the chorus.
Off in the background I could hear singing, very quiet at first, then as it rose in volume I recognized the tune. Someone were singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
“In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea.”
Then the chorus took it up with all the children singing together, including Ava. I had no idea she could sing.
“He died to make men holy, “He died to make men free…”
It was then that I realized that some of the people behind me had begun to cry…

I won’t bore you with the details of the second and third act, but I must say it was a very impressive performance for children so young. But then as I walked home through Hyde Park on that drizzly November night I could not help but feel nervous about the play.

A non-violent play with a violent incendiary title, and a title using the names of real people, written by my granddaughter? I was filled with pride but I also was filled with fear. Could ten year-old Ava be held responsible for threatening a person? Or were they a corporation? But legally corporations were real people, so technically I was just nitpicking. That’s the difference between a senior citizen, with so much to lose, and these bright young kids, thoughtless but brave. They were right about greed, though.

Greed was endangering the future of human life on the planet. It was beyond comprehension. Nothing like this had ever happened. Civilization, which for a University of Chicago student, began 2,500 years ago in Athens, could end because of ours.

Who are the Koch Brothers, anyway? Perhaps they live on the part of the planet where life will survive. Don’t they have grandchildren? Are we really all going to choke to death, or is it only the young ones, like Ava’s cousin Ozzy, born last year and who, with the advances in medicine might well live for one hundred years?

After the long walk through the mist of a Chicago winter night, when I finally reached home, I was determined to find out. Google certainly would know.

“Kill the Koch Brothers” could not possibly be original, I thought. There were so many hate groups on American radio, there must be myriad chat groups out there on the Web, conversations conducted by lunatics and extremists, that had already written these words, and were commenting on them every day.

But what if by typing those words “Kill the Koch Brothers” into my search engine I set off some alarm? Got put onto a list? What if Google handed over my search to the FBI? You have to be extremely careful what you write in your email nowadays. The government has copies of everything, just like George Orwell said they would in “1984,” a book I am proud to say was required reading at the university in 1960. My arms were now out, my hands were poised just above the key board when I noticed my hands were shaking.

Was I actually afraid to type something into my computer, a research question, inside my own home? Then I just gulped, and I did it. I typed “Kill the Koch Brothers” into Google. I expected an avalanche of sites, a long list of misfits that used these terrible words, but the only thing that came up, and it came up many times, was the fact that the Koch Brothers had successfully suppressed a documentary film that had been made about them before it could be to be broadcast on PBS. All the searches responses said, “Koch Brothers Kill Film.”

Maybe I should tell Ava to change the title of her play to that, it’s more democratic: “Koch Brothers Kill Film,” a play in three acts by Ava Lyon.

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