Performance Date: 3.31.10
The John Golden Theatre
People have been asking me lately if seeing and writing about so many plays has ruined theater for me. In other words, has all this analysis ruined my ability to experience a play simply and innocently? Great question.
The answer, in short, is no. My experience of theater has not been ruined. It’s true that when I watch a play these days, I spend much more time contemplating the technical and craft-related aspects than I ever did before. And, true, there’s always a part of my brain that stays occupied with looking for something to write about. But while I concede these facts together may mean my experience is neither simple nor innocent, I hardly think that’s a ruinous thing. The added analysis may leave me more detached at moments, but on the whole my appreciation for theater is much more enriched. And when my attention does get pulled from that meta place and becomes riveted to the action on the stage, then I know that something truly special is happening.
Let’s take Red for instance. I was up in the balcony for this show, a two-hander on Broadway (by way of London) about a late-career Mark Rothko who hires a young painter to assist him in his studio. Thanks in part to my bird’s eye view, but also in part to my blog-related duties, I spent the first section of the play largely in that meta space:
Ah, they’re making good use of their diagonals. Well they have to with all this open playing space. I wonder if that’s the actors or the director? Probably both... Oop, he’s overreaching with his voice. He’s not talking to his scene partner. He’s afraid we can’t hear him up here but we can. Oh, he’s caught himself, now it’s better… You know I bet the play feels entirely different from the second row with all those red canvasses consuming your peripheral vision… I like how they’re not afraid to be still. They’re only moving when they have to.But rather than alienate me from my theatrical experience, my detachment actually contributed to it, because as I watched the actors move the canvasses around during a scene transition, my next thoughts were:
See I love this. This is what we do. We come together, we put on a play. We make choices and mistakes. We design, we act, we move the scenery. It’s good. This is the work and it’s good.Now some might say if I’m thinking about moving scenery, then somebody’s doing something wrong. But that attitude just privileges a certain type of experience, one of transportation and emotional investment. I love those experiences, but I liked this one too. I liked having those thoughts. At the risk of being precious, those thoughts made me proud and happy. They were valuable to me. So why would I trade them for some other, supposedly more desirable theatrical experience? I wouldn’t.
And lest you think this is a post that is secretly bagging on Red in disguise, let me say that this show had many riveted-to-the-stage-something-special-is-happening moments too. Most of them involved the younger actor, Eddie Redmayne, although Alfred Molina was also terrific as Rothko. There was something messy about Redmayne’s performance that was very appealing. When his character, the young assistant, finally makes an impassioned stand against his giant of a mentor, Redmayne’s voice was all over the place, dancing in and out of a shrill register, and his body bounced and spasmed as if overloaded with adrenaline and disbelief. Watching him, that busy part of my brain wondered for a second if perhaps it was too much. But another part of me was (simply? innocently?) transported by the mess. This is the mess and risk and adrenaline of breaking away from someone you believe in. This is the mess of life.
Yes, I think after having spent nearly a decade at the altar of precise and well-crafted acting, I’m now in a period where messy is where it’s at. My old acting teacher Gregory Wallace would be proud. He used to harangue me and my classmates, “Where is the mess? Where is the MESS? I want messy!” If only I could've taken that in then. It would have saved me years of confusing “precise and well-crafted” with “polite and predictable.” But no longer! Because messy’s where it’s at. And so am I. Watch out world. Me and Eddie Redmayne are comin’ at ya.