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Edmund White's New Play Terre Haute Gazes on Timothy McVeigh

Edmund White has written a new play, Terre Haute, based on an imagined series of conversations between Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and author Gore Vidal. Both subjects have had their names changed in the play. The provocative approach White takes is raising eyebrows.

McveighFrom a new interview in The Telegraph: "Given its UK première last year by theatre company Nabokov in Edinburgh, it imagines a series of conversations between McVeigh (restyled Harrison) and a distinguished seventysomething American writer called James (modelled on Gore Vidal) in the run-up to the mass-killer's execution at Terre Haute Penitentiary, Indiana, in June 2001. Inevitably the piece grapples anew with the familiar theme of whether acts of terrorism can be justified - but what makes it contentious, possibly incendiary, is that it flags up the possibility of sexual attraction between the two men: 'If I thought you'd never know, I'd unzip that orange jumpsuit just a bit so I could see your chest. Touch it,' says James. In the context of what his interlocutor has done, even notional physical contact carries a huge transgressive charge."

White tells The Telegraph that he wrote the play for an actor with whom he was in a relationship:

"The desire to write a play was not, in the first instance, prompted by shared outrage but by the urge to provide a starring role for a young actor with whom he had embarked on a torrid affair, the details of which are relayed in an entertainingly un-self-censored chapter of [White's autobiography] My Lives entitled 'My Master'. 'I said: 'All you have to do is tell me to do something and I'll do it.' He said: 'I look like Timothy McVeigh, why don't you write a play about him, then I can be in it?''"

Vidal_white_2The play has angered some who have seen it for White's humanizing of McVeigh, whose truck bomb detonated outside the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in April '95, tragically ending the lives of 168 people, including 19 children, and injuring 850 others. It's no surprise that White's drama has touched a nerve.

White tells the Telegraph that he feels McVeigh was "vulnerable sexually" without saying flat out whether or not he believes the terrorist might have been gay.

He also reveals that it wasn't difficult for him to write from the point of view of his friend Gore Vidal, but that the perspective evolved into White's. White finally drops an explosive confession of his own:

Terre_haute"White continues: 'I thought, 'How can I do that? I can't imagine writing lines from McVeigh's point of view.' Then I remembered Gore Vidal had been in correspondence with him. I thought: 'Well, they never met, but wouldn't it be interesting if you changed the names and let them meet?' I've known Gore. We're roughly the same age group, we're both Europeanised Americans, we're both gay. I was presumptuous enough to write things from his point of view but as I went on writing the play, it became much more about me. Gore later told me: 'I would never have been attracted to someone like that.' But I would have been."

"The admission is so frank, so unapologetic, that for a moment I'm stunned into silence," admits White's interviewer.

Truman Capote did it in In Cold Blood and now White. What is it with gay literary authors sexually fetishizing their murderous subjects?

Has anybody out there seen the play? What's your review?

Terre Haute is at the Trafalgar Studios, London SW1 (0870 060 6632), from May 8 until June 2.

Strange tale of sex and terrorism [telegraph]

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Comments

  1. This was exceptionally naughty of Ed.

    Gore is FURIOUS (and believe me you don't wnat to see his fury) for in effect this play turns him into his arch-enemy Truman Capote. Gore had no sexual interest in McVeigh wahtsoever. He isn't his type for one thing.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | May 8, 2007 7:45:07 PM


  2. OY VEY

    Jon uhm the heterosexual S/M and D/s community far far far outnumbers the gay simmular community.
    Not every gay man is into such things. I myself am into some kinks, but that is another subject. LOL

    Gay writers that have fetishised their murdurous characters are far far far far outnumbered by those who have not fetishised their murdurous characters. The percentage is surpased again by heterosexual writers who fetishise their murdurous male and female characters.

    The attraction to a "bad boy" is both a heteroserxual and homosexual thing and can find its roots in our very boring modern culture with no rights of pasage and no great adventures for the masses. Our ancestors swung around in the trees hiding from things that wanted to eat them for many times the amount of time we have been walking upright. Heck our coming down out of the trees was very recent in fact. Going back geneticaly to even our earliest mouse like ancestors running around hiding from giant teeth in the dark is hard wired into us.

    Our genes geared towards survival which are our oldest, strongest, and most numerous genes do have a pleasure component attached to the fight or flight matrix. Those ancestors whose genes did not provide for a pleasurable response from surviving a trauma didn't try as hard to survive such traumas.

    The whole concept of attraction to things dark and deadly can be found in our genetic make up of fighting or fleeing danger and deriving pleasure from such an experience.

    Our modern boring and safe culture gives no sufficient outlets for such and people thus find such pleasure, sense of being truly alive, etc in dark, macabe, dangerous, and deadly things, situations, scenes, kink, and people.

    This is equaly a heterosexual phenomena as it is homosexual. Coo coo for coocoa puffs is not discriminatory :-)

    Posted by: pacificoceanboy | May 8, 2007 11:32:27 PM


  3. Gore Vidal is well known in endless bios and autobios as a rather frosty top. He even fucked Jack Kerouac in the ass, according to Palimpsest.
    Also I'm very confused as to why White felt he needed to imagine this conversation. It was well-known they were in communication; much of that comminication was reprinted in Vanity Fair right before McVeigh was executed.
    Furthermore Vidal and McVeigh met many times. Vidal was front and center at his execution, at McVeigh's request.
    Is White being disingenuous or is he just the worst researcher in the history of playwrites?
    The conversations Vidal and McVeigh had about politics and America were fascinating and important and widely written about and debated. They had absolutely nothing to do with sex. White's need to re-imagine them as gay porn says more about him than about Vidal.

    Posted by: Drukler | May 9, 2007 5:18:16 AM


  4. Just came from this travesty of a play the other night.

    An absolute waste of time and money.

    There is no character development, and no real believable understanding or communication either.

    The homoeroticism seems to serve no purpose in the play, and the pseudo-sensual overture during the fourth interview seems totally discordant and out of left field.

    The script provides little more than lightweight character sketches without any real substance.

    Both Leads, Arthur Darvill and Peter Eyre, are competent and even excel with what they have been given; but this is really a dog of a piece.

    Worst of all the play makes the inexcusable error of being boring.

    Rob

    Posted by: Rob | May 9, 2007 7:42:46 AM


  5. Just came from this travesty of a play the other night.

    An absolute waste of time and money.

    There is no character development, and no real believable understanding or communication either.

    The homoeroticism seems to serve no purpose in the play, and the pseudo-sensual overture during the fourth interview seems totally discordant and out of left field.

    The script provides little more than lightweight character sketches without any real substance.

    Both Leads, Arthur Darvill and Peter Eyre, are competent and even excel with what they have been given; but this is really a dog of a piece.

    Worst of all the play makes the inexcusable error of being boring.

    Rob

    Posted by: Rob | May 9, 2007 7:43:30 AM


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