Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What 4 I go to the theatre

Since moving to LA I've seen very little theatre. In New York, I used to see 2 to 3 shows a week - on average. You'd think there'd be some withdrawl going on, but it's been so busy, I haven't missed it. Yet, I've found myself returning to plays to work on them and I'm still strongly drawn to the blogs of theatre lovers and the conversations they foster.

It got me thinking about why I started going to theatre in the first place.

The truth is, I've never gone for "entertainment." There's plenty of television and film that can do that for a lot less money. And often better.

Engagement, however, has been a much more powerful motivator when it comes to getting me into - and keeping me in - the theatre.

It comes in a lot of forms - laughter, anger, sorrow, horror, sympathy, sharp thought, pure bafflement, joy, mystery, beauty, scathing relevance, vigorous truthfulness, provocative ugliness, delightful whim, etc.

What makes it unique in theatre is that it's an experience you're living in at the same time the actors on stage are living in it.

So when Austin and Lee go at it in TRUE WEST, I'm not just watching it, I'm witnessing it. When Marion in Fornes's ABINGDON SQUARE awakens sexually, I feel it the way she does because I'm in the presence of it. When Mag burns her daughter's letter in the fire of THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE, she relishes the sense of injustice and dismay and pity that she inflames in me and the rest of the audience just to see the flames go higher. When the hat parade happens in Churchill's FAR AWAY, I am completely disgusted and horrified by the juxtaposition of each hat's beauty against the brutal world that produces them.

It's what makes theatre dangerous and compulsive and terrific (in the archaic sense) - which it ALWAYS has to be for me if it's to be good.

I don't even have to like it when it finds this place and holds my attention - Mark Schultz's EVERYTHING WILL BE DIFFERENT was a play I couldn't stand even as I couldn't help but watch it.

Engagement dies the moment I ask the question, "What's the point?" (In some ways, the bitterness I feel when I find myself asking this question grows exponentionally with the quality of the production. The better it looks, the better it's acted, the funnier it is just for the sake of funny - the more I begin to hate it.)

Of course, engagement can die and come back several times in a show. And that's okay.

And I don't have to be able to easily sum up the point of a show to be completely immersed in it - in fact, sometimes when I thoroughly get it, I'm totally UN-engaged. Nice endings, sincere apologies, warm understanding, untruthful dialog, punning of ANY kind, schtick (unless we're talking improv), smugness, uber-coolness, arrogance are all other ways to ruin a perfectly nice time in the dark.


Mark S. said...

"Mark Schultz's EVERYTHING WILL BE DIFFERENT was a play I couldn't stand even as I couldn't help but watch it."

Malachy, that's actually a very lovely compliment and has made my day!


Malachy Walsh said...

Hey man... it was the kind of experience we actually all need to have in a theatre more often...!


Really, really great writing and a terrific production.


I truly hope you're not being sarcastic. Because I truly meant what I said as a compliment.

Mark S. said...

Hi Malachy,

I wasn't being saracstic at all. Really. I was contemplating writing, "I mean that with no irony whatsoever," but I thought the insistence on no irony would come across as ironic. So I didn't write it.

I don't think any of us write to be liked (I mean, sure, we want people to like what we write, but I don't think it's the over-riding priority). I think we write to engage, to challenge. Engagement relates to the work--being liked relates to the ego. I think we write to create an experience or to share an experience of some depth, not just likeability. A play is a broken-hearted love letter to a lover (the beautiful horrible world) that could care less. That sort of love letter demands attention, demands anger, demands hatred, demands indignation, demands love. Like is the consolation prize.

So when I read what you wrote, I literally thought, "Mission accomplished!" And was very happy!

I think your blog is terrific, by the way.