Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"What Should I See?"

Theatre continues to shrink in its mass cultural influence and popularity. If you are reading this blog, you are probably one of the ever smaller minority who view theatre as important enough to keep up with at all.

Co-workers, students, friends and relatives have asked me, at some time or another, "What should I see?" That is how the question is usually asked. Not, "What's good?" Not, "What would you recommend?" Not, "What would be fun?"

"What should I see?"

Recently Matt Freeman asked for his readers to make their "shameful admissions." He was asking what famous plays people have not read or seen. So, combined with recent comments by Thomas Garvey at The Hub Review, (Thom wants, contrary to Artaud, MORE masterpieces,) this got me to looking at the upcoming seasons of different theaters here in Massachusetts and surrounding states.

By nature, the making of lists is an argument waiting to happen, but I feel confident that this list provides a pretty basic answer to the question of "what SHOULD I see?"

Now, you may have seen all of these plays before, and if that is the case, this is not a list for you, except for you to suggest others or debate my choices. I have tried to include most of what would be considered masterpieces or important works of the theatre that are available for you to see locally, or least a couple of hours away. (I have excluded Shakespeare only because the Bard's works go without saying.) The list is in chronological order of production dates.

There are others I thought about adding. For instance, Jean Anilouh's Antigone or Dario Fo's We Won't Pay, We Won't Pay, could be argued; and a recent Pulitzer Prize Winner, David Lindsey Abaire's Rabbit Hole, is playing at two different community theatres in the area.

Some on the list just made it on: Follies is still hotly debated critically, Hughie might be considered minor O'Neill by some, and Cabaret, especially through its Sam Mendes-revision, may seem ubiquitous. Ditto The Glass Menagerie and A Chorus Line. And despite its racial baggage, I think it cannot be denied that Show Boat is an important piece of American musical theatre.

There is absolutely no risk in my making this list. I am hardly going out on a limb with any of these. What is most interesting though, is just how limiting this seems. I notice that women and minorities don't appear that much on this list. But it is not that they aren't represented in the pantheon of great drama, it is just that they aren't being produced this season. Now, the Heidi Chronicles by playwright Wendy Wasserstein is being produced at the Longwood Players in Jamaica Plain next spring. It is a Pulitzer Prize Winner, and the play that put Wendy Wasserstein on the dramatic map, but is it essential? I have seen it several times and it grows more and more dated with each viewing.

If there are plays on this list you have not seen in performance, well, you probably should make the effort. (I haven't seen Peer Gynt, Picnic or The Pirates of Penzance.)

If there are productions anybody can note that I have missed, please let me know.

*If you have never even read The Seagull, I would advise seeing the Publick Theatre performance first. I just say this because, the American Repertory Theatre can sometimes play games with the classics to the point where they are unrecognizable from the original.


Thomas Garvey said...

Great list, Art! And a good idea to MAKE a list at all. I actually think almost all the local theatres have very good seasons ahead.

I do have to haggle with you over this statement, though:

Theatre continues to shrink in its mass cultural influence and popularity.

Theatre is, of course, shrinking in mass popularity, but that hardly means it is shrinking in cultural influence. Indeed, the exact opposite is probably true, even though, yes, lots of "theatre" today consists of adapted movies, etc. But genuine new theatre, like genuine new dance, music, and art, is still the crucible in which new ideas are formed that slowly (VERY slowly these days) leak into the larger culture. And then there's the obvious question of whether it really matters in any way whatsoever that one sees, say, The Dark Knight. Probably not; everyone's already seen it for you, you can practically absorb it osmotically from the media, and you can talk about it at parties as if you've seen it without actually having to put yourself through it. It's hardly that way with a play. You have to be there to think or talk about it intelligently.

Btw, to your list, I might add David Hare's Secret Rapture at the Trinity Rep, Grey Gardens at the Lyric, and The Seafarer at Speakeasy. Interesting plays that I think might become minor classics.

silent nic@knight said...

Art said: If there are productions anybody can note that I have missed, please let me know.

Haven’t you missed all those master works of theatre of the last fifty years that have had a different relationship to text or the “play” than other periods of history? Consider such divergent aesthetics as Squat Theatre, Wooster Group, Grotowski, Robert Wilson, Mabou Mines, and many other contemporaries and their relationship to text. Many productions by these groups fulfill Artaud’s central notion in No More Masterpieces.

Art said...

Thanks for the additions.

You said: "It's hardly that way with a play. You have to be there to think or talk about it intelligently."

I guess this holds true. I have not seen August Osage County, yet. Even after reading tons of coverage and reviews. I don't feel I really could discuss it.

Whereas, I have not seen The Dark Knight either, but, after seeing all of the coverage, reading the reviews and hearing friends talk about it, I could probaly hold my own discussing its major themes.

The theatre is interesting that way. It has its greatest advantage when dealing interpersonally, (people trying to get something from or do something to other people.)

Film is concerned so much with externalities. I don't mean that in a negative sense. Film is always pulled, and functions best when dealing with the external. The greatest films underline this.

Art said...


You bring up an excellent point.

Once again, I am limited to what is being produced here.

Although, I could include Double Edge Theatre in Amherst, their new project The Disappearance premieres this fall.

Mabou Mines did come through Boston last season. If they were coming again I would have them on the list.

Courtney B said...

I am a huge HUGE fan of this site. Just wanted to note that Heidi is being produced by Longwood in November, not FC in the spring.

Art said...

Hey Courtney,

Thanks for the correction on Heidi, I made the change.

Charles said...

Hey anyone here like SHAW? Saint Joan is being produced at WFT Oct-Nov .

Art said...

Hey Charles,

Thanks for the heads up.

Saint Joan definitely makes the list!

I overlooked it before.