why onstage, part two

I saw Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play last weekend, a terrific production at Cleveland Play House, and I’m utterly incensed.

The play explains everything, every relationship, every motivation, every character right down to the ground.

So what was the audience doing there?

That’s what movies are for, you sit back and it does it all for you.  That’s what prostitutes are for.

Theater is a relationship between the story and the audience.  I need to be required to make my own synaptic leaps so that I can invest.

Local audiences’ response to In the Next Room has been that they laughed a lot, but don’t really know what they thought of it, and that’s exactly right: each and every time we started to be drawn in, to invest, BANG!  An explanation!  There are some gorgeous monologues, a whole character with a lovely, tragic arc, and none of this is even remotely necessary to the trajectory of the play.

Plus, it’s LONG LONG LONG.  The guy in front of me fell asleep.  Women sexually manipulating each other in real-time in front of him, and he fell asleep.  Why?  The production was beautifully, creatively, energetically directed and acted and designed and executed, but the audience was as necessary to the theatrical relationship as paint on a flower.

Maybe I’m woefully old-fashioned – probably – but if there’s not something for me to do, some involvement other than my bum in a seat and money in the till, I’d rather go have conversation with a gifted, lively, intelligent person.

Which is what theater should be.

Corporations are not people.  Theater IS.

That’s my opinion.  What’s yours?
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2 thoughts on “why onstage, part two

  1. Excellent thoughts, Deborah. What I want to know is, why does audience treat theatre like a movie period? They are totally different things. Theatre is alive. To quote Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator,” : “It’s right in front of you buster. Can’t look away. Can’t munch on popcorn, that’d be rude.” Another question to ask is, how can we as theatre artists make a theatrical experience entirely that for the audience to experience fully? It’s a question I think about with every performance and with every play I write, because audiences need to be challenged away from the distance that a movie screen, the actors acting distantly from audience need to be present there.

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