Byron Woods is celebrating his 18th year as an award-winning arts journalist and critic in the Triangle. In addition to his work as contributing editor…
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Paul, the region has seen local stagings of African work before: multiple productions of Nigerian playwrights Ola Rotimi (particularly by the Rotimi Foundation, in the early 2000s) and (Nobel laureate) Wole Soyinka. Still, non-U.S. / non-U.K. scripts (and cultures, for that matter) remain far too great a blind spot in much of regional theater.
That's why Common Wealth's concept is particularly important. Because it is, script selection is paramount, in order to actually present the best of what we're missing.
One hates to correct a reader in error. I prefer to take Chill's mistaken remark as a tribute to the actor who performed one of more striking roles in this show in drag.
That apparent success seems to have made the production's claim of an all-female cast, in itself, a more effective inquiry into gender roles than much of the work we saw here on stage.
Let's be clear: It is profoundly refreshing whenever a director chooses to feature any community that has experienced unearned difficulties finding roles on our regional stage. It is also deeply useful when a production effectively calls into question long-held beliefs concerning gender and sexuality. Among any number of productions O'Berski has directed, his "Cherry Orchard" and "Glass" have effectively done both.
I regret that this production ultimately did neither of these things very well. Largely, this is because we couldn't consistently believe any of the students on stage. That would include those I mentioned by name, who only found convincing moments among otherwise incomplete performances.
Even if a character's main work involves criticizing a specific gender role, we still have to buy into the character constructing the criticism. Anything less basically takes us out of the realm of acting. Unfortunately, that's where many of the students on stage spent much of the evening. Far too many of them were playing at characters, not playing characters.
Dress-up isn't theater. And it can't be said to empower a group of students to put them on stage before a paying public without first adequately preparing them to succeed there.
As a discipline, Theater Studies sometimes is accused of privileging the analysis of performance over the actual work itself. This production largely seems an unfortunate case in point. Duke Theater Studies appears to have taught some of this group to investigate gender. But by what we've seen here, it isn't clear how effectively it's taught any of them how to act.
A fundamental imbalance is suggested. Perhaps someone should look into it.
Readers: A lively discussion on my Facebook page has added a lot to my thoughts about the show. Please feel free to visit, consider and weigh in: arts.byron.woods.
The very best theater—the truly excellent—lets us lay hands directly on the problems of our (and other) times. Though this may come as a shock to rathla's cohort, there actually are one or two issues currently facing North Carolinians and Americans that are an awful lot greater—and graver—than whether a praise-starved artist got enough ego feed from a strongly positive review.
This production of "The Crucible" cast a strong light on those issues—which is entirely to the credit of the artists I mentioned in my commentary. That was and remains the most important news from this production. That's why I reported it.
Yes, readers, it is more than a little nauseating when grown artists involved in a show (or their stage mothers, wives and husbands) respond to a four-star review like true professionals—by stamping their little feet and whinging, "B-b-but you didn't praise us ENOUGH!!!"
Could someone please tell rathla's cohort that sometimes the theater is actually allowed to be about something bigger and more important than the size of their own personal ovation? And when it is, it actually means the artists did something _very_ right?
Dear ev&an: The links to both stories are included in the text, above, but I'll repost them here:
"Gray's Anatomy," Indy, January 30, 2002: http://bit.ly/GrayAnat
(my interview with Gray, one half-year after his trip to Ireland)
"Waving and Drowning," Indy, March 17, 2004: http://bit.ly/GrayWave
(a remembrance after his death, and a critical analysis of 'It's a Slippery Slope')
Thanks for writing.
Our modest guest raises an interesting issue. Since Martha isn’t really losing a child in that moment in the play, why shouldn’t her character (not the actor playing her) display a response to that development comparable to, say, a mediocre LARP player? Isn’t this merely a disagreement with a director’s interpretation, and not a legitimate point for critique?
Useful question. The most useful response might be for me to simply step aside and allow the work to critique itself.
1. By the end of Act Two, Martha’s character has repeatedly responded far more ballistically—and believably—to a host of “injuries” much less meaningful than George’s unilateral act of progenicide, hypothetical or not.
2. When George tells her that he killed their “child” because she broke a rule and talked about him with someone outside the family, there’s Martha own sick, boozy admission that she sometimes forgets he’s not real and forgets it's a game.
3. Then there’s the subtitle of Act Three itself: “The Exorcism.” Not “The Mild Disenchantment” or “The Disappointing End of an Interesting Mental Exercise.” (Now, I’ll admit, a working man might not have access to this last bit information—it wasn't in the playbill—but the director and actors most certainly did.)
Was what we saw really an “exorcism”? If not, why not? Did Albee actually shatter any grand illusion in the moment George informs Martha their son is dead? Or did he merely intend to pull the plug and let it deflate, as this production seemingly did?
Given all we’ve seen from Martha to that point, which response is more appropriate? More plausible?
Reasons enough, all told, for us to expect a moment a bit more believable than the one I witnessed Saturday night.
Thanks for writing.
By the same immaculate logic, it's just as obvious that God wants everyone to walk around naked.
Weren't we born that way?
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