Tuesday, June 29, 2010

More Frightening in the Abstract or the Real?

The Boston Globe's Sandy MacDonald takes in K2 at the Berkshire Theatre Festival:

Like Macdonald, I always find the decision to mount a revival of this play interesting. Without the dread of the impending annihilation by Nature, the play does read a little like subtext theater - clunky though not too melodramatic. The published play script includes a foreword, in which the author talks about the very different ways the play was staged in its first two productions:

"Since the Broadway production opened in March of 83, much attention has been focused on the awesome efforts of designer Ming Cho Lee, who who created a wall, well beyond my wildest dreams. In the Portsmouth and Syracuse productions, the designers had smaller spaces and smaller budgets, but were also able to create beautiful and imaginative sets. ... In Syracuse the set was totally abstract - made entirely of steel and fiberglass - a frozen, existential, no man's land."

The photo above is of the Berkshire production, which I haven't seen. It appears they have split the difference between the abstract and the realistic.

This ties in with the recent New York Times article about the challenges of staging horror in theaters:

Theater artists are divided over how to tackle onstage violence. Most writers simply reject rigid naturalism and strip their productions to bare essentials. “St. Nicholas” and “The Pumpkin Pie Show,” an annual collection of gothic tales by Clay McLeod Chapman, are built around spooky monologues and finely tuned dialogue on an empty stage. “The stories I heard around the campfire as a kid scared me most because they worked on the imagination,” Mr. Chapman said. “Theater should exploit what it does best. I want it to be intimate and spare. As soon as there is an effect, I am looking for the pulleys and the wires, and you lose me.”

As Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, one of Broadway’s biggest landlords, noted, “If the effects aren’t believable, horror quickly becomes camp.”

The article notes that there is disagreement about this. For instance, playwright James Comtois points out “When you see someone cut onstage, there is just something shocking and jarring.”

1 comment:

Bob Stachel said...

I saw the 1983 Broadway production of K2. The mountain looked dazzlingly realistic; however, it gave off fumes and made me ill. I'm sorry to say I barfed into a trash can on the way out of the theatre. (I've never seen such a look of horror on the face of one of those hardened Broadway ushers.)

Or maybe it was so realistic I got altitude sickness?