It is around the figures of Duranty and Fortuyn that The Party Line pivots. There are superficial similarities between them: both were writers; both prized their creature comforts; both were hedonists, sexual adventurers (one straight, one gay) of whose private lives the play gives us a glimpse. But otherwise they were opposites. Duranty – who, in Stalinist Moscow, led a life of capitalist luxury – was, as much in his personal life as in his professional life, utterly indifferent to the fate of others; among other things, he was, as the play illustrates, quick to abandon the Russian woman he had lived with for years and the son she bore him. Fortuyn, by contrast, had a deep-seated sense of responsibility to others, both personally and in the larger world, and it was this that motivated him to risk life, limb, and love to preserve for all Dutchmen the freedom he so prized himself.
The life stories of Duranty and Fortuyn are both about party lines. Duranty chose to toe the Soviet line in exchange for a couple of decades of luxury, honor, and reward – and, as the play shows, a pathetic, disgraced senescence, and an afterlife of obloquy. Fortuyn emphatically rejected the multicultural line, for which he reaped in his lifetime the scorn of the Dutch and the international media (which demonized him, obscenely, as a fascist) and for which he ultimately gave his life – and won a glorious posthumous reputation among his countrymen, who in a poll taken two years after his death named him the greatest Dutchman of all time.
Among the other real-life people to whom The Party Line introduces us is Aleister Crowley, the British Satan-worshipper, “occultist,” and all-around creep and crackpot who, I had forgotten, was actually a friend of Duranty’s, and whose presence in the very first scene of this play helps to set in our minds the idea that, yes, there is such a thing in the world as evil. Another real person who figures in the drama is the loathsome Konstantin Oumansky, director of the Soviet Press Office, who vetted Duranty’s Times dispatches for orthodoxy.
But most of the playwrights’ other characters are inventions, several of whom serve to link Duranty to Fortuyn in one way or another. In real life, nothing is known of the fate of Duranty’s son by his long-suffering Russian common-law wife; that son, in this play, grows up to become Pim Fortuyn’s lover. Sid Brody, a correspondent for UPI, and his wife, Rose, leave New York for Moscow in 1928, true believers in Stalinism determined to do their part for the workers’ revolution. Diana Pierson is a well-meaning American heiress who, smitten by Communism in her youth, has her eyes opened by a tour of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and, six decades later, remembering the lessons she learned as a young woman about totalitarianism, cheers on Pim Fortuyn. Her son, Stockton Rhodes, is a CNN reporter who after Fortuyn’s murder must decide whether to face the threat Fortuyn warned about or remain loyal to mainstream-media orthodoxy – and thus keep his job.