Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Too Much Discussion

As the theatre season is into full swing, lots is being discussed now, both here and around the country.

Thomas Garvey recentley challenged Boston's larger theaters to pick up the slack on presenting new plays from our leading dramatists. And Bill Marx now picks up a similar prod to even the mid-zized houses regarding the work of dramatists like Howard Barker and Naomi Wallace:

Given the New York Times’s unenthusiastic review of an off-Broadway staging of Howard Barker’s A Hard Heart back in December – “Kathleen Chalfant can perform such miracles onstage that she has even found the lifeblood in Howard Barker’s bloodless essay question of a play” — the chances that the script would receive a Boston production didn’t look good, at least among the city’s cautious medium-sized and larger theaters.

For a contemporary straight play or comedy to be staged here a warm reception in New York is often a must. Unruly and dense, Barker has not been a favorite in the Big Apple, along with a number of other intriguing playwrights. But to its credit, Whistler in the Dark will be giving A Hard Heart a chance to beat in the Black Box Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts (321 Arsenal St., Watertown, MA 02472) from April 11 through 26

Thom Garvey, meanwhile, responds to Ty Burr's recent column about theatre and film:

I know some will claim this is snobbery - but isn't that claim in itself a form of reverse snobbery? Indeed, I've all but given up trying to convince a lot of folks that I really like Shakespeare and Mozart - they're just too deep in denial. I'd only point out that it's hard to square their claims of snobbery with the fact that when real culture is presented at low prices, or for free - like the summer opera and Shakespeare programs on the Common, or the Met broadcasts at local cinemas - the public turns out in droves. They're hungry for the real thing - they by and large simply can't afford it!

Indeed, just indulge me in a little thought experiment - imagine, for a moment, that the tickets to local theatre productions - like The Clean House, The Tempest, or Some Men - were $10, and that Drillbit Taylor and 10,000 B.C. cost $50. Which do you think would be the hot tickets? And something tells me Ty Burr's blog would suddenly reverse itself - all at once, no doubt, the moviehouses would be full of catatonia-inducing sludge, while the theatres would be chock-a-block with lively, popular entertainment.


So my advice is to skip 10,000 B.C., College Road Trip, and Horton Hears a Who, and use the $30 you've saved to buy a half-price ticket at Bostix to Some Men or The Tempest, or even The Clean House or Shining City. You'll have a better time - and you'll be a better person, too.

Garrett Eisler at The Playgoer, talks about how the all-black Cat on Hot Tin Roof is laying the groundwork for possible all-black productions of Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman.

Hey, I'm not taking sides. I personally would never want to stand in the way of great actors playing great roles, whatever the appearance of their pigment or the DNA of their ancestry. And from what I hear the attraction of the current Cat is exactly that phenomenon.

I also am reminded of the story that Tennessee Williams himself blocked a proposed casting of the sensational African American stage actress (and later Matrix maven) Gloria Foster as Blanche DuBois in the 70s. I guess he had his reasons, too.

The issues are complex, especially when claiming to support some notion of "African American Theatre." The good thing here is that--like the Classical Theatre of Harlem, which has mixed the works of authors of color with radical reinterpretations of classics by Shakespeare, Beckett, and Genet--we have an expansive repertory for a community of actors sharing at least some threads of a common heritage. And anything that fosters such a "rep company" community among a troupe of actors doing great plays is a good thing.

I can hardly keep up with it all. (Garret has some good links at his site to some interesting stories.)

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