A Divine Fallacy: Dissected
Standing on the sidewalk in any metropolitan, we let crowds of people pass us. Their origins and histories are all extremely different and yet so often we let each one walk past without a thought or look. We cannot be expected to meet every stranger we come across, this is plain. But Tina Howe’s The Divine Fallacy supposes you, the protagonist of your own story, someone who aspires to meet fashion models and movie stars, is put in a room with one of those people you never thought of, or even looked at. The play’s structure is a rapid back and forth, and often combined conversation, forced by close quarters and an obligation to a friend, allows the audience a good feel of who the characters are, without feeling forced. Through the course of the play we see Victor Hugo become a reflection of society’s and our own preconceived notions about who is special and who is not.
The play begins with our protagonist in a rush with an obligation and a quirky young girl in his way. The play is structured so that each character speaks to each other but having completely separate conversations. The two schedules conflict and interrupt each other, Victor sees a task and wants to move on, Dorothy on the other hand seems content in the act of conversation itself. Soon enough, both conversations run together and Dorothy seamlessly turns the conversation away from the matter at hand. The structure is such that the chaos of two strangers, becomes a single conversation, as the characters reveal themselves to each other and the audience.
Les Miserables, written by our protagonist’s “great great grandfather” is a tale of redemption and loss, a powerful work of depth. In contrast, our Victor Hugo is a fashion photographer and somewhat vapid. He is important, supposedly, but where his ancestor might have instantly been taken with this seemingly common girl, Hugo, at first, has no interest in her. Just as Jean Valjean took notice of a common prostitute and her daughter by chance, our protagonist comes to know Dorothy in a divine light by accident. Dorothy herself seems in a world her own. When she explains the pictures in her head, “ Holy men calling the faithful prayer to as women shed their clothes at river’s edge” and “A beast, a tail, a jewel eye” we know there is something about this humble girl that is a little more than quirky. When the girl’s stigmata is revealed we know she is truly other-worldly and Victor knows too. Victor comes to terms with the fact that though his life and career is seeking out a showing the world outer beauty, true beauty often comes from modesty.
The play begins as a discord, Dorothy explains her lateness, “ We don’t have much time”. Dorothy attempts to go into further detail, “ I have to leave for Paris in an hour.” Whatever Dorothy may say or be, Victor is uninterested. It is only when Dorothy goes on in detail about “elephants” and “macaws” and a camera in her brain that Victor and the audience take real notice of Dorothy. After that, the conversation, eases, seems more natural, and Victor pays attention to Dorothy as a person and not just a subject to photograph, he pours a drink. Dorothy asks three questions beginning with, “Can I ask you a personal question?” and Victor answers even sharing a little of himself with his guest, suggesting a more comfortable back and forth. Finally, after Victor learns that Dorothy is a saint of sorts, the conversation is given a major shift. It is now Victor who begs Dorothy’s attention and forgiveness, and Dorothy who shushes him. We can infer because of her divinity, she already knows what Victor has to say, and she understands.
The play speaks to the inherent genius or saint in us all. Each of us fancies ourselves special, different. We feel like in some ways we are better than the majority of those around us. And in some ways we are right, we are all unique, we do all have a certain genius in us. The fallacy is not our belief in ourselves, it is our lack of belief in others. We are special, but so is everyone else. In the play, we get the sense that because Dorothy is not traditionally beautiful, and somewhat unimportant in his line of work, Victor does not expect much of her. This speaks to that part of us that knows our own worth but does not ascribe worth to those whose beauty is not obvious. Tina Howe shows not only our pride and the thin line between it and hubris, but she shows the potential for greatness in everyone, be it a senator or a construction worker, both may be a poet.