Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spirited Challenge

To dovetail slightly with Thomas Garvey's examination of solo verbatim theatre, I thought I would link to blogger R. Winsome's spirited dissent on Milwaukee Rep's current production of I Am My Own Wife, Doug Wright's play.

I can't find any compelling creative reason that Charlotte's story (or actually Doug's story) is best told by one actor playing all the roles. It could be argued that this choice mirrors the many lives Charlotte herself played in life, or that somehow the transvestite themes are aided by all the characters (mostly male) being played by a man in a dress. Actually, my experience is the opposite. Having one actor play all the roles dulls any edge that transvestism might have. Every time the actor switches character we are reminded that this person is onstage and wearing a costume. The potentially transgressive image of a man in a dress is constantly replaced by the perfectly acceptable even traditional image of an actor cross-dressing for his role.

I believe these decisions are motivated by economy not creativity. Wright secured the financial success and marketability of his play when he decided to make it a one man historical biopic.When economic necessity leads a theatre artist to write, perform and otherwise create a solo show because the show is self produced and rehearsal time is shared with a day job, a job whose vacation time is spent taking the play from fringe festival to fringe festival, then the one man show is a testament to that artist's dedication to his work. When a one man play is clamoured after by large cost-cutting mismanaged regional theatres it looks a lot more like exploitation.

When politically charged content like Nazism, Communism, East-West relations and transsexual identity are replaced by a historical biography of a "greatest generation" figure, it looks a lot like pandering to the aging population of traditional theatre patrons.

When a playwright puts a character, himself even, on stage as a tool for talking about themes rather than simply portraying them, he's lazily spoonfeeding an audience he assumes is to unsophisticated or inattentive to critically engage with the characters.

1 comment:

Thomas Garvey said...

What's most interesting about that post is its long tail of comments, btw, which features barbed exchanges with the star of I Am My Own Wife and other Milwaukee theatre figures.