Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Behanding in Spokane

Performance Date: 03.03.10
Schoenfeld Theatre

Speed-blogging (also not-really) Post #6: A Behanding in Spokane

As you know, one of my aims here is to see if I can write about plays without reviewing them.  And by reviewing, I mostly mean criticizing.  I’m not trying to be a Pollyanna – on the contrary, I believe healthy criticism is essential to art.  It’s just that it’s so easy.  It’s so easy to talk about what you don’t like, and feel smart and funny doing it.  And because it’s so easy, I have often neglected to spend time exploring the other aspects of art that perhaps I did like, or was interested by, or that reminded me of something.  So the non-review bent of this blog is an attempt to correct that knee-jerk response in me, and perhaps encourage other knee-jerks like me to do the same.

And I think that’s a good thing.  Because if it weren’t for my commitment to non-review plays, I might have stopped thinking about A Behanding in Spokane weeks ago, and missed an important insight I finally had that kinda makes me want to see it again.

So I’ll say it plainly – I was not initially a fan of this play.  In truth, it kind of dumbfounded me.  And the rest of the audience seemed to adore it, which just dumbfounded me further.  And honestly, since seeing the play two weeks ago until about 20 minutes ago, I could not get any further than that.

But 20 minutes ago, I sat to write this post and thought about two images from the play that stuck with me.  One was a detail in the set, which depicts an old, run-down hotel room.  I noticed, and admired, while watching the play that the scenic designer had chosen to present the room as though it had been sawn in half.  The playing space was entirely realistic, but along the proscenium and downstage edge of the stage, you could see a crumbly cross-section of the hotel room’s walls, ceiling, and floor – the wooden studs and joists within the plaster.  And around that cross-section was empty space, so that this broken-off piece of hotel room seemed to float within the confines of the actual stage.

The second detail was also design-related.  After the first act, a ratty red velvet curtain comes down in front of the set.  Sam Rockwell’s character walks out, wearing his beat-up bellman/night reception uniform, and delivers a monologue to the audience, in front of the curtain, lit by a follow spot.

In contemplating these two images, the word vaudeville finally popped into my head.  The crumbly set that emphasized the proscenium, the ratty red curtain, the beat-up bellman’s vest, the follow spot, the monologue to the audience.  It was all vaudevillian, in a faded sort of way.  

And that’s the lightbulb.  Vaudeville.  All the stuff I didn’t get, all the stuff that dumbfounded me about this play – I now believe it was doing it on purpose and it was doing it with vaudeville in mind.  I would need to go back to see if that lens truly changes my perception (and reception) of the play, but considering I completely missed that element the first time around, at least consciously, I can’t with good conscious conscience say I remain “not a fan.”  

And that never would have happened if I hadn’t forced myself to think my beyond my first knee-jerk response.  Pollyanna or not, it does feel good to not be such a knee-jerk sometimes.

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