Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I read Far Away last year and I was immediately excited by its possibilities, but being an actor and director as well, there were things things that bothered me about it. The last scene of Caryl Churchill's brief, 50 minute play seemed to read more like a novel than drama, and the more I re-read, the more I doubted that it could actually work as the conclusion for the work on stage. I felt that on an intellectual level it made perfect sense, but it didn't quite capture the mystery of the first two sections, or the visceral impact of the coup de theatre which she sets up brilliantly.

However, the reviews from London and New York were great, so I was eagerly looking forward to Zeitgeist's production. David Miller has done a good job putting this play into the Black Box, and Loann West has done such a fantastic job of costuming that it set me to praying that critics remember her work all the way into next year's awards lists.

My frustrations with the play are not with Zeitgeist's production, but with the last scene of this play. I think I will now have to see another production, (if one ever comes around here,) to see if the scene can be effective on anything more than an intellectual level. I guess I just want it to work because I think the rest of the play is so damn good. Bravo to Caryl Churchill, who I think is in her sixties. Sophocles wrote the macabre and terrifying Women of Trachis in his sixties, and both these examples help to show that experienced playwrights are not dated, or boring, but they can in fact contribute intense "fringe" pieces to the theatrical landscape.

When I was living the Seattle area, plays in the school of Far Away were consitent appearances in a vibrant theatre scene. I would love to see smaller companies in this area take more risks and try to produce works like this. However, a passion for new storytelling and working to expand the boundaries of what theatre can be run smack up against the consumerism of most entertainment these days. A recent interview in the New York Times with Wallace Shawn, whose edgy play Aunt Dan and Lemon is being revived in New York, was very enlightening. When asked about his acting experience he said that he was fortunate because acting payed the bills. "I certainly couldn't make even a lowly bourgeois living writing play," Shawn says. "My plays have been strange from the beginning, and they never got unstrange."

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