Thursday, September 14, 2006

ART in Overseas Maelstrom

Playgoer links to Michael Billington's column in the Guardian about witnessing outright audience hostility to a production of the Three Sisters in Edinburg.

When you read the article in full, you find that the story actually has local roots that have not been picked up by our hometown press as far as I can see.

You see, the production in question, the one which solicited such savage spectator outspokeness, is not the work of some hack little company throwing up a fringe show. No, the production is one that has already graced our fair city here. We, The Athens of America, the Hub of the Universe, got this infamous production first!

Yes, the ART's Three Sisters, directed by Krystian Lupa is the production in question. I didn't get a chanc to see the production when it was running last November. It seemed, from the coverage, like it was a test of audience patience. The reviews from almost all quarters here at the time, while very postive, seemed to indicate just that.

But nothing like the following was reported as far as I know:

But it was during Chekhov's wonderful last act that disaster struck. Almost every line became a potential minefield. Masha only had to say "Isn't it awful?" or "I'm going out of my mind" for a torrent of jeering, derisive, mocking laughter to issue from the stalls.

There is really no excuse for this type of behaviour, I agree with Mr. Billington. It is the equivalent of verbally harassing the kid in the booth at the local Hess gas station because you don't like the geopolitics and pricing strategies of the oil industry.

However, Billington eschews a couple of points in the following quote:
The argument against that is simple. The actors are simply carrying out a concept determined by the director. To jeer at the performers themselves strikes me as rude and cruel; which is why I always dislike the courtly mockery of coarse actors at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Love's Labour's Lost. As one of the victims says in the latter play, "This is not gentle, this is not humble." And the sound I heard in Edinburgh on Tuesday night was similarly that of contemptuous arrogance.

First point is that the director himself is present during these productions, the second point is actually a question I would ask to Mr. Billington: How is an audience to respond if a work of theatre takes on the sound of "contemptuous arrogance" towards the spectators?

It seems Mr. Lupa is font of wisdom at his 62 years of age, and lest you think it is only the unskilled American audience member he wants to educate, remember that he condescends to even the critics of our fair city of Boston. Here is the London Telegraph writing a promo interview with Lupa for Three Sisters before its fateful arrival at Edinberg:

We talk about his Edinburgh-bound Three Sisters, which originally opened in Massachusetts in November 2005 - and, when I point out that American critics attacked the show for being slow (at almost four hours), he roars with

"The critics made me laugh," he says. "Their amazement was so naive. They were like children who had never seen a cow, and, when they do, they shout: 'Look! There's a cow!' And then they wonder what cows are for! The reviews looked only at the most superficial aspects of the show."

Mr. Lupa seems to be a charming and engaging This is disingenous as most of the reviews received here pointed out the method and the value they perceived in it, just as Lupa is describing.

Here is the Globe:

Even at that, Lupa still completely justifies the ART's faith in his
vision. The intelligence and rigor that he brings to every scene slow things down. But without ever being showy, each scene leaves the audience with a
'Three Sisters to be savored.For all the problems in the second half, I'd rush back to see anything Lupa directs.

Carolyn Clay in the Phoenix was equally laudatory. She mentioned, in all but a half sentence, the "slackening pace," but put it in its proper context.

Indeed, most all of the reviews dealt with the substance of the Chekov update, so I really don't see Lupa's point. (And everybody knows I am hard on critics here in Boston.)

So what are we to make then of a man who sneers at fans of his work as "naive." Is theatre now some type of masochistic enterprise for the audience? Of course I hope that Mr. Lupa was consistent and was roaring with delight as the audience hurled derisions at his production and his actors.


Thomas Garvey said...

You admit you didn't see that godawful production. If you had, the response in Edinburgh would have been completely understandable. Only the prestige of Harvard - and our local critics' truly staggering (and deeply middlebrow) loyalty to that prestige - prevented it from being laughed off the stage here in Boston. When I saw it, a woman actually fell over me in her panic to get out of the theater at intermission. And I couldn't blame her. As she put it while apologizing, "I know life is meaningless, but it's also short!" There are very few productions that I would recommend the Bush administration use as an interrogation technique on terrorists - but the ART's "Three Sisters" is definitely one of them.

Thomas Garvey said...

Actually, scratch that - I'm sure forcing anyone to watch the ART's "Three Sisters" would violate the Geneva Conventions!