Thursday, November 09, 2006

TV Twists the Knife...

The creators of the cartoon satires that dominate Sunday night television and Comedy Central are devourers of high and low brow culture. And their appetite does not stop at the electronic media.

Anybody who has seen South Park; Bigger Longer and Uncut knows that Trey Parker and Matt Stone can take the current musical theater, chew it up and spit it out. Team America; World Police their brilliant send-up of action genres, featured a young actor in a musical called Lease, (read Rent,) who sings the show stopping number "Everybody's Got Aids."

Seth Macfarlane, the creator of Family Guy and American Dad, skewers and references theatre and literature continuously. For instance, a character demands more gravy with their meal because, "that last piece of white meat was drier than Oscar Wilde."

In one episode of American Dad, two characters have fun role playing when they go out to events. Their particular favorites are playing a professor and his wife. As the show goes on, their role playing gets wilder and meaner until, with two younger guests over, they go too far. The show ends with the camera pulling back on the wrecked living room, the two characters sit in a tableaux perfectly reminiscent of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Though larger musicals enter the public consciousness, How many viewers of American Dad get an Albee allusion?

The answer is, more than likely, not many, and so serious theatergoers should thank Mcfarlane for his satirical reach. However, there is something else he provides us that is far more valuable.

In last Sunday's episode of American Dad, Stan, the protaganist of the show and a true-red Republican, goes to see a theatrical production about Abraham Lincoln and is appalled at the avante garde work.

The little snippets we see of this one-man Lincoln show is a piercing look at just how most of the country views the serious or experimental theater.

This show has it all:

*Solo Performance
*Spare Set
*Projections and Multimedia
*Weird sounds over the sound system
*Raw meat and vegatables are tossed about the stage
*And as the light dies, the performer states, "Maybe we are all slaves." But this is not enough. No, a mirror descends from overhead to illustrate to the audience that they are slaves as well. And even that is not enough. Hilariously, the word "SLAVES" is projected across the mirror. And even that is not enough. The word "SLAVES" flashes on and off as, "SLAVES" is heard over the sound system.

This send-up is painful, yet hysterically funny. It is also useful to understand that this is the way most of the country views experimental and even serious drama. Mcfarlane then continues to show us the gaping chasm between how we see ourselves as a theater community and how the rest of the country sees us.

Stan, disgusted over this portrayal of his hero, creates his own one man show, "Lincoln Lover." In his show he assumes the persona of Lincoln's bodyguard and Lincoln is represented onstage by a dummy with a top hat, which the protaganist moves around the stage. This convention has an eerie reminiscence of Absence/Presence a solo performance piece covered by George Hunka last year.

Stan is hilariously unaware of the latent themes of his production, and Lincoln Lover becomes a surprise hit with audiences who are enjoying all of the gay undercurrents and Stan's unintentional kitschy lines. (Some of them worthy of Mel Brooks' The Producers.)

I may be way off, but I think these are the two versions of the American Theatre that most people have: Pretensious and Opaque or Gay and Kitschy. After reading about the NEA's new survey last week, I really think that when most people weigh the prospect of buying a theatre ticket they assume they are either going to get Stan's Lincoln Lover or the avante-garde Lincoln! which enraged Stan in the first place.

And one more thing to think about, can you think of a theatre piece that so perfectly skewered the current political situation so perfectly.

Pictures: (Top Left: American Dad/Fox Network), (Top Right: Absence and Presence Photo by Steve Smith)

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