"There's Daggers in Men's Smiles."

The Bard, And A New Look At An Old Puzzle

Much of the work here has been of an evidentiary nature, trying to sort through facts as they’re known to piece the puzzle together and find the truth of Robert’s murder.  But we’re always looking for fresh eyes and new perspectives on the case.

Friend and Shakespeare scholar Mark recently combed through the Wone archives to see if there was something we were missing.  His first response: that “truth” is often more slippery than we might like.  (Witness the body of work by documentarian Errol Morris – a man whose films draw solely from fact but often lead to messy questions of what truth those facts draw.)

Banquo's Ghost Pays a Visit to Macbeth

Banquo's Ghost Pays a Visit to Macbeth

The events of Aug. 2nd have often been called a tragedy.  We asked Mark to look anew at that night as a dramaturge might to try and discover what the dramatic truth of Robert’s murder may be.

As he emphasizes, we do this not to reduce Robert’s murder to mere theater, but rather to see if there’s a different way to peer into the closed box this case presents and learn something new.  If anyone knows about tragedy, it’s the Bard.

After reading about the murder of Robert Wone and following the postings and exchanges, it occurred to me that we might think of the murder, coverage, and trial as if it were a stage play.  This is not to trivialize Mr. Wone’s death or its repercussions, but to think about it in another context.  And good drama, at its best, asks us to think about the world around us in new ways.

The play would have to be a mystery.  The murder, the investigation, the bringing of charges and the scheduling of a trial together constitute the first act.  We know the characters, the setting, and the crime, perhaps recounted to us in flashback via a disinterested party, such as a journalist.  We do not know all the details or who is responsible.  That information will be revealed in the second act.  We are now waiting through what seems like an interminable intermission.

As many people do during the intermission of a play that has captured their attention, we stand in groups in the lobby and speculate as to what will happen next.  We go over the events of the first act, each from our own point of view.  Some come up with careful reconstructions of the events that strive to account for all the possibilities and lead to a coherent ending.  Some focus on the characters, analyzing their motives and passing judgments.  Others prefer to sit back and let the drama unwind on its own.  Still others, let’s say the reviewers who should be paying close attention, are, it seems, wandering around the lobby pretending that the play isn’t actually happening or that other things are more important.

This play is unconventional, however.  Among the people in the lobby, a group is recording and sorting the comments.  They have collected and summarized the facts of the case as well as people’s opinions.  Their material is available to the audience, but also to the characters of the play.  This creates an unusual tension.  When the play restarts, we will not know if this material has affected the outcome.  On the one hand, all the knowledge collected has already been available to the characters.  On the other, the opinions and hypotheses have not.

The play as it stands so far, looks like a tragedy.  A young, talented husband and friend has been murdered.  His death was swift and sudden and seems to have occurred through no fault of his own.  Three men are implicated by their presence at the site of his death and their inability to explain satisfactorily the circumstances of the murder.

The second act will turn the play into a courtroom drama.  The charge, however, is not murder, but obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and tampering with evidence and so the stakes for the defendants are not as high (a curious choice on the playwright’s part.)  Despite this, we have murder in mind and expect the prosecution carefully to present a case that will not only convict the three men of the three charges against them, but also will reveal what really happened.  The defense will mount a tenacious counter-argument, trying to poke holes in the prosecution’s case, pointing out instances of supposition and circumstantial evidence.  At the same time, the lawyers will present the three defendants as sympathetic, perhaps caught up in circumstances beyond their control and thus innocent of the charges against them.  We in the audience watch carefully, but in the back of our minds we wonder if our comments have affected what happened.  To what extent have we become characters or even playwrights?

In any good courtroom drama, however, there must be a twist.  At the last moment a witness will come forward, a new piece of evidence will be introduced, or one of the defendants will change his story.  Perhaps a juror will have a stroke of insight that completely redefines the case.  Some of us will be startled.  Those of us who saw it coming will feel satisfied.

Justice may not even be served by the surprise. The charges may be dropped; the defendants may get off scot-free, despite their obvious guilt.  Possibly, through some bizarre machinations Mr. Wone’s death will be shown to be accidental or the unfortunate consequence of another event.  Or even more surprising, Mr. Wone will somehow be revealed as the author, in whole or part, of his own demise.

Whatever the twist is, it will lead to a truth; otherwise the play would be a failure.  We in the audience will have the satisfaction of knowing what really happened.  At the same time, some of us will recall that our opinions and ideas about the murder may have played a part in the resolution and wonder what that tells us about the truth.

posted by Doug

22 comments for “"There's Daggers in Men's Smiles."

  1. bob
    07/22/2009 at 6:19 PM

    Do you guys thing you could wrangle up a fortuneteller — or maybe an experienced circus worker — for a bit of insider commentation, too?

    • CDinDC
      07/22/2009 at 6:41 PM

      I would prefer a shaman.

  2. Clio
    07/22/2009 at 7:06 PM

    Using Shakespeare may be too close to home in part since the New Yorker story was someone’s bedtime reading at 1509 Swann, but a radical revamping of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (1895) might suffice. The light-hearted comedy of manners would go, of course, to be replaced by a stark contrast between the Wone and Price households in Act 1. The fashionable Swann Street set with its Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes would be juxtaposed with suburban Robert and Kathy, whose public faces matched their private ones — “the importance of being earnest” writ large. In this draft, both Robert and Joe would be considered ideal husbands, though, by their mates and colleagues, until the countdown to the gathering storm of Act 2, the road to the knife of August. Act 3 would feature the grisly events and conflicting stories of that fateful Wednesday evening. The gradual unraveling of the potential cover-up and, then, the securing of the murderer’s confession would provide Acts 4 and 5 respectively.

    Victorian melodramas revolved around secrets and the unveiling of secrets, and this all-too-real story still has its secrets to be unveiled, too.

    Other themes that permeate this story are betrayal and deception, both self and collective. In most scenarios, Robert is lured to Swann Street under false pretenses. In most versions, matronly Victor is not told the whole truth; here even confidante Sarah is probably not told everything either. Sad!

    I cannot wait to read the Ballad of Reading Gaol that will eventually come out of this mess, however. The question does remain: who will be its author?

  3. Spike
    07/22/2009 at 9:15 PM

    Using Shakespeare may be “too close to home” but there wasn’t a single reference to him or his work in the analysis.

  4. Nora
    07/23/2009 at 6:48 AM

    Maybe fantasizing about a theatrical “happy ending” is all we can do. In this regard, thanks, Doug.

    It’s my personal belief that there will be no “epiphany” and we will never know the truth. The hypocrisy just runs too deep. There may be some convictions for obstruction, etc. (or maybe not), but that’s all we’ll see. The Swann St. crew have too much to lose to roll. They are not from the criminal class we are used to reading about, with their bedrock fatalism. These guys are achievers and imposters and they will act out that role until their deaths.

    I’m sorry for being Debbie Downer but that just seems to be where all signals point now. I wish I could write a Wildean ending. I truly wish I could help.

    • Clio
      07/23/2009 at 9:43 AM

      Nora, I share your doubts about ever getting neat and satisfying closure for Robert and his family, but there may be no need for such twentieth-century pessimism. The attendant Silver Spring “crew” with its NE satellite — much closer to what the Victorians termed “the dangerous classes” — may have the necessary “fatalism” for beginning such an anticipated turn-about: the soft underbelly of the Price patriarchy may lay not only with (now) Joe.

  5. galoon
    07/23/2009 at 5:31 PM

    look like the innocent flower
    but be the serpent under’t.

  6. Clio
    07/23/2009 at 7:24 PM

    The larger lessons that might be taken from this very real and ongoing tragedy are quite conventional:

    (1) Say no to drugs.
    (2) Coming “out” for gay men is a continuous and arduous process; resist the comforts of secrecy and hypocrisy, which may lead to irrational and irrevocable decisions.
    (3) If private behavior is so extreme that it cannot stand the light of day, then do not do it.
    (4) There are higher loyalties than those to members of one’s own polyamorous and/or biological family.
    (5) Repress one’s most extreme and outlandish desires, especially if they involve rape and murder.

    One question from the Duggan piece:
    Kathy Wone indicated there that Robert preferred to mentor or to help or to encourage others behind the scenes, and not in the limelight. Who were these mentees, and was Joe Price one of them?

    • Robert
      08/04/2009 at 6:35 AM

      CLIO
      When Robert along with his parents went for an
      introductory survey at William and Mary College,
      Joseph — in the junior class — was the tour guide.

      Joseph would ultimately become President of the
      Student Assembly and take Robert under his wing
      in this as well as many other campus activities.

      Meanwhile the same Wone whose high school
      classmates thought he would become the first
      Asian President of US, was at W&M called “The
      Congressman” on account of all his political and
      charitable acts throughout his college career.

      Though I have three university degrees and much
      expertise, I have always preferred the advisory
      role to the supervisory one.

      I think it is in this sense that Robert would have
      preferred to be general counsel at Radio Free
      Asia to his becoming Executive Director,
      President or Chairman of the Board.

      There are those who believe that Price was
      jealous of Wone on account of Robert’s
      accomplishments.

      Personally, I think that Robert’s accomplishments
      only contributed to the aura which led to Joseph’s
      unrequited love for Robert which was matched
      by Robert’s non-sexual admiration for Joseph.

      As you may read on my posts elsewhere at site,
      I believe that Price’s unrequited love for Wone
      was critical (sorry): to drama played out which
      would unltimately result in Wone’s murder on
      that fateful nite of Shakespearean proportions.

  7. CuriousInVa
    07/23/2009 at 8:22 PM

    I got the impression that Joe, at least in the earlier years, had been more of a mentor to Robert.

    • Clio
      07/23/2009 at 9:00 PM

      True. But in what ways, if any, had that relationship changed in the new century to where the conventionally married Robert was the advice-giver and connection (for social and professional advancement) to the insider-outsider (marginal because of sexual orientation) Joe Price?

      • CDinDC
        07/23/2009 at 9:04 PM

        I think Robert trumped Joe in many ways.

        Maybe Joe was a little jealous of that and wanted to put Robert back in his place. Or the place Joe thought Robert should be.

        • Clio
          07/23/2009 at 9:28 PM

          Or (and this obviously is so speculative), earlier that summer, Robert (in his possible role as advisor/mentor/friend) may have confronted Joe privately and offline about his drug use and/or the nature/propriety of his relationship with Dylan. Robert’s visit may have been a follow-up that Joe deeply resented because Joe thought of himself as either still the mentor from their W&M days, or as now the “Big Daddy” of Swann Street whose ways, however self-destructive, could not be questioned. In this scenario, the assault and murder could have been Joe’s way of killing the messenger.

    • Robert
      08/04/2009 at 6:37 AM

      CVA
      I have same impression as you which is indicated
      in my above response on the subject to CLIO.

  8. Nelly
    07/23/2009 at 9:24 PM

    Nah, I think out of the three, Dylan was more likely to be insanely jealous and resentful of Robert. And have the hots for him too, being an Asianphile. Joe was successful already: partner in a law firm, counsel for Equality VA, in the news, making lots of money. Quite a contrast to Dylan, the ne’er-do-well from a rich family.

    • CDinDC
      07/23/2009 at 9:46 PM

      But don’t forget Joe seems to be very much a narcissist. A narcissist can be outrageously successful, but still feel the need to be bigger and better. They are very self-important and do not want to take a backseat to someone. Narcissists, often, have deep seeded insecurities. Narcissists also, sometimes, carry deep seeded shame. Joe’s interest in humiliation may be as a result of his need to punish his failures. Narcissists can be very hard on themselves.

      • Clio
        07/28/2009 at 11:36 PM

        Deep-seeded or deep-seated? For Joe, both adjectives may apply.

    • Robert
      08/04/2009 at 6:44 AM

      Similar to you, I disagree with those who believe that the narcissitic Price — senior to and mentor to Wone — was jealous of his protege, Wone.

      However, I do believe that Joseph always “carried a torch” for Robert in the form of an unquenched
      unrequited love.

      Again similar to you, I believe Ward may have been jealous of Robert but for different reasons.

      Ward had a physical not emotional relationship with Joseph. The emotional reserved for Victor.

      Price’s unrequited love for Wone threatened both Victor and Zaborsky. Ward’s Asian fetish may have contributed to three-way.

  9. Spike
    07/28/2009 at 10:32 PM

    Your tip #5 is just fantastic and psychologically astute, Clio. Repression is definitely the way to go, that NEVER backfires and causes a bigger problem than if the person hadn’t been told their behaviors and fantasies are too outrageous to be brought out in the light of day. Insert sarcastic eye roll here.

    • Clio
      07/28/2009 at 10:56 PM

      Thanks, Spike. As we know, a little repression, like a little editing, never hurt anyone, especially if it involved NOT pursuing one’s fantasies of rape and murder. Perhaps instead, the excess energy pursuing such mayhem then could be subliminated into constructive activities such as cultivating orchards or organizing bridge tournaments. Just a thought.

      • Robert
        08/04/2009 at 6:59 AM

        CLIO
        I don’t know. I have a close Gay Asian friend
        who grows garden orchids and another close
        GAM who plays professional bridge:)

        Who knows how such hobbies would have
        played had Robert had them and Price and
        Ward been attracted to them (just kidding)?

        But the truth is that neither Price nor Ward
        needed any excuses for their assault of Wone.

        Joseph had unrequited love for Robert and
        Dylan had an Asian fetish. Add drugs and
        alcohol to the mix, next thing you know. . .

        Rape, probably, Murder, probably not. In
        saying this, I do not mean that Joseph and
        Dylan did not kill Robert.

        What I mean is that I do not think that killing
        Robert was part of the original plan by Price
        and Ward to rape Robert.

        I think that the ketamine overdosed Robert in
        such a way that Price and Ward thought either:
        1) that Robert was alive when he was dead; or
        2) that Robert was dead when he was alive.

        Suppose, Joseph and Dylan believed that
        Robert was alive and that the drug had not
        worked to erase his memory? Then out of
        fear, Joseph & Dylan might have killed Wone
        to save themselves from rape related charges.

        Though one might argue that a rape charge is
        not as bad as a murder rap, who knows what
        Price and Ward were thinking in their own
        drugged hallucinatory and euphoiric state?

        Suppose, Joseph and Dylan believed Robert was dead from an overdose of ketamine?
        Then out of panic, Joseph and Dylan might
        have killed Wone with knife to cover up fact
        that Wone died from overdose by J&D.

        The latter is the more likely if only because
        a “post mortem” killing would have resulted
        in little blood loss which would have made the
        much fretted about clean up all the easier.

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