What Is America Hurrah, the Play Featured on Mad Men Season 5, Episode 10?
On last night’s Mad Men (Season 5, Episode 10: “Christmas Waltz”), a pivotal moment between Don and Megan occurred after the dashing couple went to the theater. Don seemed mildly threatened by the play America Hurrah, while Megan jumped on its anti-consumerism bandwagon happily. So what was that odd play all about anyway?
America Hurrah premiered in November 1966, at an off-Broadway theater in New York. The play, which was written by Jean-Claude van Itallie, is actually a trilogy of three one-act stand-alone plays called Interview, TV, and Motel. The scene we saw featured was from TV and anonymous, masked young people collapsing on a Manhattan street, where a protagonist type delivered a monologue about TV advertising making him vomit uncontrollably. Don was clearly not amused.
And this line from the New York Times review back in 1966 may be a clue why: “[The play goes] deep into the cool pool of quiet self-contradiction which contemporary man has accepted as his natural environment … that womb-away-from-womb in which most of us spend our hours now.” Well, no one embodies “cool” and “quiet self-contradiction” more than Don Draper.
At the time, according to a van Itallie site, America Hurrah was “widely hailed as the watershed play of the sixties … the first major dramatic expression of the anti-Vietnam war movement.” And sure, we can see how any anti-television, anti-American marketplace message would have also been a form of protest against the first-ever televised war.
But all we really care about, in this context, is the Draper marriage. Megan seemed to be shoving the experimental theater down Don’s (gorgeous tie-adorned) throat, almost baiting him to blame her for the play’s anti-ad men message. Which he fully did, as she fought back a pleased smirk behind his back.
We take this is another sign that Megan’s youth, despite being the most attractive thing about her in Don’s eyes, is serving to age him even more. Don comes from a buttoned-up generation, where you did what your country asked you to do, and you didn’t ask questions. Megan’s generation is watching her peers go get killed on the nightly news, and questions abound. So when she starts aiming her questions at Don, what can she expect except one of two things: the “Yup/Nope” routine she lamented early in the episode, or the snappy rebuttal?