Seeing Ourselves in Mount Misery

Director’s Notes by Rob Melrose

At the beginning of the process of developing Mount Misery we were fascinated with the questions that arose imagining Rumsfeld and Douglass interacting through time. The characters of Edward Covey (the overseer of the plantation Mount Misery and Douglass’ torturer) and Joyce Rumsfeld were originally tangental to the main relationship between these two men.

But as Andrew wrote, we started to become interested in Covey and Joyce. Joyce says, “Let us enjoy dinner, as a family, once again. Let us just enjoy the shops, and the restaurants. Is that too extravagant to ask?” It is a funny line, as is so much of Andrew’s play, but it is also actually quite profound. I don’t make decisions about torturing people or invading countries, but I sleep soundly in Fairfax (please don’t tell ISIS where I live) while my country tortures and invades. I don’t enslave people, but I wear affordable (and sometimes stylish) clothes made by people in sweatshops across the ocean. And yet, I walk around thinking that I am a good person who loves his family. Joyce interests me because she participates in evil in the way I participate in evil and, I suspect, in the way you do too.

In Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt wrote about “the banality of evil.” She noted that so much of the evil of the Holocaust could be found in people “just following orders” and letting things happen. For me, I’m less interested in the evil SS officer ordering people into the gas chamber and more interested in the postman in Dachau who delivers the mail every day and passes by the camp on the way home to dinner with his family. Covey’s devotion to Christianity is a reminder that until 1865, there were plenty of people who participated in slavery and still considered themselves good people. Sometimes it takes a Frederick Douglass or a Harriet Beecher Stowe to make us see the human cost of evil.