NEW YORK CITY - The buzz among the oh-so-hip in Gotham is about a new play called "Omnium Gatherum," translated with ironic understatement to mean "a collection of peculiar souls."
An assorted group of fashionable men and women gather at a chic dinner party to discuss the latest "ins" and "outs," "ups" and "downs," rites and wrongs in the post-9/11 world. The characters are the smug and arrogant elite who care more about what they say than what they hear.
Imagine a Martha Stewart-like figure as hostess for a party of ideologues where more isms are tossed around than the different lettuces in an organic salad - Marxism, capitalism, feminism, sexism, terrorism. Many of the characters are based on real-life celebrity intellectuals, but the food for the tummy is more important than food for thought. The hostess takes the cake, literally. "I'm aware of my wealth," she says. "I used to be middle-class. I know how that feels."
The menu includes wild salmon from the Columbia River, "freshly blessed lamb" that is "a favorite among moderate Shiites," and a "tower of sliced ruby-crescent fingerlings" that most of us call "potatoes." This is haute cuisine for those who aim at political sensibilities below the belt(way).
"A lively, contentious debate is the heart and soul of every dinner party," says the hostess, as the sparks begin to fly. "But I do think we should wait until the main course is served, don't you?"
The play mocks first the Manhattan dinner party, but the satire extends to elite newsmakers everywhere - the politicians, academics, pundits and intellectuals more concerned with performance than substance, who polarize everything because that's where the ratings are.
While the guests exert an effort to exude profundity, they glide over the polished surface, relying on rhetoric as empty as the crystal decanter from which their fine wine was poured. Information overwhelms, but as one character in this play observes with the chilling certainty that links him to an empathetic audience: "We all got this on the Internet!"
"Omnium Gatherum" is about a world flooded with data. We take it in and spit it out according to ideology, but much of what we say lacks the process once known as contemplation. The Internet, for example, is wonderfully accessible, but the user online often refuses to exercise the discipline it takes to understand what can be downloaded. (No wonder so many teachers at schools and universities worry about plagiarism.)
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