Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Do Not Rescucitate!

Louise Kennedy in today's Globe dovetails a little with some of the blogosphere ranting we have been doing over unearned revivals. Ms. Kennedy is referring to two local revivals: The Human Comedy at Barrington Stage Company, and Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone at the Berkshire Theatre Festival.

While The Human Comedy suffers from a banal script and characters incongruously matched with a jazzy score. Flowers seems to be living in another time:

I'd also be grateful never to hear the name ``Tommy Flowers" again. A wide-eyed man - child who scrounges along in late-hippie-era New York by sponging off friends, shoplifting, and beating checks, Tommy is apparently meant to charm and shock us. For anyone who's survived more than her share of self-absorbed 30-year-old toddlers, though, he only grates...

...So much effort, so much energy, so much endless invention -- and all in service of a muddled, tedious, and badly dated artifact of Those Zany Times

This is not an uncommon experience at the theatre, and especially not uncommon during stock season. And choosing revivals seems often to be more sentimental, (and we know Oscar Wilde's views on this,) than artistically bold.

More often than not, interesting revivals come from unlikely places. Mark Steyn just reviewed The Contrast, a play from 1787 now being revived at the Theatre of St. Clement. The Mirror Repertory company's production helps Steyn to see:

So, although it belongs to a time when all Americans were young Americans and were just beginning to school themselves in the mores of their new nation, the play is not only well written and efficiently structured but its “contrast” between homespun Yankee virtues and Europhile decadence could hardly be more pertinent.

Steyn concludes:

And if anything older gets exhumed it’s usually the stodgy stuff –second-rank Eugene O’Neill and so on. Is that all there is? Or is it that producers and theater owners don’t trust themselves to know which of the museum pieces can be polished up and which is never going to shine no matter what you do to it?

Louise Kennedy would simplify this skill of polishing up plays in her statement:

Theaters may revive a play for many reasons: its suitability for a particular cast, its perceived appeal to a local audience, its apparently relevant themes, and who knows what else. But surely one reason should be that it's a good play.

There is much more in Steyn's piece, including a review of The Importance of Being Earnest at BAM.

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