Monday, June 09, 2008

The Pillars of our Theatre

Rob Kozlowski a blogger in Chicago, went to see the now celebrated production of Our Town by the Hypocrites, but....had to leave at intermission.
Jen and I experienced some transportation issues and managed to get the very worst seats in the house, sitting in the exact spot that put one of the pillars in the direct center of the action. Believe me, the scene where Doc Gibbs is scolding George for not chopping wood is far less effective when it appears that George is being portrayed by a pillar. I think I lost my motivation to stay for the rest of the play when the pillar started crying. I had to call do-over and we left at intermission. It's the first time I've ever left a play during an intermission because I couldn't see anything, but I just felt my level of frustration was going to further ruin what should have been a special experience. Too many people I respect have praised this production, and I just needed to call do-over.
The Actors Shakespeare Project's recent production of Henry V got much praise in the press, but it seemed that there was a subtext lurking in some of the reviews about the staging, to be more specific, the obstructed view.

Some reviewers did mention it outright. Thomas Garvey:

But then there's that pillar. I'm half-onboard the ASP's commitment to unusual spaces around town, but really, their Harvard Square digs, at least as configured here, have limits you just can't get around: for long sequences, I was watching Henry's back, as he conversed with someone else who was blocked by the pillar. To hell with the "brightest Heaven of invention" - I'd settle for an unobstructed view!

Dede Tanzer, writing on the PMP Network was a little more hostile:

My first clue that this production really was going smell rotten was
when the first line was delivered from behind the insulated, taped lolly column at center stage. Couldn't they have at least tried to make it look like a tree? That's what my kids would have done in our basement.

There are many reviewers, especially those in print, who who buy into the noble pretension that they are speaking for the common man, the average Joe or Jane, (or elite Joe or Jane,) who is being asked to part with hard earned cash for their tickets. Fair enough. But then they seem to take no interest in such things as the fact that everybody on house right has an obstructed view for major scene of the play. Or that the director of a thrust staging has basically given up and staged the entire thing to the center, as if they were in a proscenium.

I have always wondered how a reviewer sitting in that center section could possibly ignore the ever-increasing fits of neck-craning exasperation and anger running along those side galleries. While viewing some productions at the Boston Center for the Arts' Plaza Theatre over the years, I have found these obstructed view seizures of my fellow playgoers to be, at their most fevered heights, an uncomfortable distraction.

Now, of course the side galleries and the balconies are not paying as much as Orchestra Center Row G, and so minor inconveniences should be expected. But maybe critics should be sensitive to cases where fully two thirds of the paying ticket buyers will not be experiencing the same show as they.

Maybe not? What do people think?


Thomas Garvey said...

I've always felt the far (audience) right seats in the Plaza Theatre were unusable, and shouldn't be sold, even at half price.

Art said...

Those ones flush with the wall?

I couldn't agree more.

I guess if it is a hot show, and they need to pack people in, they are better than not seeing the show, but I always feel bad watching people in those seats grow more and more annoyed as the show goes on.

I've sat in them a few times and there's not much anybody can do for them.