Jan 29, 2012
I took to the the theater this weekend, seeing two productions.
The first was Our Town, directed by David Cromer. The production moved like a well-oiled, and albeit, unaffected organism. Stripped away was the artificial veneer applied to a text, where actors tell you what they think you should feel, where you could cry bullshit a hundred yards away. Instead, these actors felt, they yelled at each other, which is certainly the anomaly for this oft-produced play. You could sense the blend of the beauty and pain the quotidian: the real sound of clicking heels on wood, the snapping of pees, a baseball hitting leather in the moonlight. It was real, uncommented on...palpable. Most effectively demonstrating this is the brilliant choice of the costumes. Everyone is wearing something so goddamned regular, like the most regular khakis and sweater vest combo. Nothing sticks out, except for what the people do, which is ordinary.
For the first two acts, this blend of the pain and joy of living rests just below the surface. It digs at you. The lights are on the audience, and you felt like Mitt Romney could be holding a town hall in Iowa. You were in the town, wanted to be a part of the town...or didn't. But regardless, the fourth wall was firmly worn down. You were involved. Cut to the third act, when the digging that Cromer has done to that wall, enables him to obliterate it....and connect to the audience in a way I've never seen a play do. If you are interested in what theater can do, see this production. That's all I will say.
I also had the pleasure of seeing Clybourne Park, by Bruce Norris, directed by Pam MaKinnon, at the Mark Taper. This production was also a pleasure to watch, and had a rhythym and a pop that made it super easy to listen to (not always the case). The actors spoke to each other, they connected deeply with the stakes and similarly to Our Town, it wore you down, set up relationships for pending explosions. It's not until late in the second act when this thing blows open. And it really does.
It's about a house in Chicago and how the economic inequality of people of other skin colora allows bubbling racial tension to burst through. The first act sees a white couple move out of this house in 1950s. The second act sees a white family attempt to move back in. The sharp production makes you feel the prospectives on historical trends which have and continue to divide Americans, and how race is a function of class, and how cultural differences are shunned or unaccepted. The characters struggle with shedding their predetermined outstanding of the world through the lens of racial tropes.
At the epicenter of the tension are two jokes, both of which play deeply on racial stereotypes. I think we can laugh at truths that make us uncomfortable...it's almost like a shedding of skin, particularly if we can laugh at ourselves. Norris is asking the audience to laugh at what makes us uncomfortable. As the audience does, the theater becomes a vehicle for the slightest bit of racial healing.
I had friends in both of these productions, and kudos to them for their wonderful work.
Both productions were helmed by artists (Cromer, Norris, McKinnon) who are leaders and have sharp visions about the role of theater in 2012. It is satisfying to see.
Thanks for reading,