Tuesday, August 13, 2013

After Dark, August 13, 2013

Old Hat
Too much of a good thing
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

There are two reasons we did not review Repercussion's apparently brilliant production of Midsummer Night's Dream in Montreal. The first - probably the subject of another op-ed somewhere down the line - is we can't hold onto reviewers in this city, particularly of English-language theatre, because whenever a reviewer writes anything about several of the companies here a platoon of nasty anonymous comments follow (even, sometimes, when the review is positive; it's just not positive enough...).

The second reason, and this is more personal to me, is that I might have been available myself to see the show - as at one point it was playing a half-block from my apartment - except that there is not a single cell in my body that wants to see another production of Midsummer Night's Dream. Not just because it has been in heavy rotation in this particular company's 25 year history, but also because I have acted in it, seen versions of it from a dozen or so other companies, watched films of it and - Bottom line (pun intended) - short of fucking each other even the mechanicals don't interest me anymore.

As I read those titles my tears dried fairly quickly.

Now lest Repercussion feel targeted let me say I am pretty much to that limit with Aïda (the opera), Les Mis (the musical) and several other plays by Shakespeare - Macbeth, and Comedy of Errors (which I detest). It's because they all qualify as old hat to me and I have seen no production which has changed my mind. (Ah! the woes of being 56!)

Now out of Atlanta, last week, this headline: "Financially strapped Theater [sic] of the Stars cancels season." It's a headline that begs a read. The company couldn't raise money for Little Mermaid and Cats after having already cancelled Anything Goes and Dream Girls. As I read those titles my tears dried fairly quickly. Am I to weep for a lost season that boils down to pandering?; that is nothing but: we-can-usually-sell-tickets-to-most-of-this-crap-so-we-can-produce-more-crap! People - even the most mainstream audience - get tired of same old same old, sometimes.

There's a lot of that in the theatre world. Companies having trouble and try to save the day with a Les Mis or a Cats or whatever hackneyed road-show that is passing through town. And BIGGER IS BETTER. Yes, well...until it's not. I look at the mainstream productions which have had a life in the last years and you can see a definite trend towards focusing on humanity and ideas instead of spectacle: Red, God of Carnage, Intimate Apparel. Even the revivals - surprise hits many of them - are concussingly human or challenging: Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Angels in America, Mary Stuart, Light in the Piazza.

To launch this year's Edinburgh Festival, playwright Mark Ravenhill gave a rousing keynote speech.  You can read the whole thing, but I particularly liked this call to arms, pertinent to my argument: "Now is the time to ask the impossible questions and try out the wildest answers. What really is the value of love, of friendship, of work, of sex, of education, of gender, of ownership? Question them, destroy them, rebuild them."

Ravenhill's call goes beyond an artist's duty to spectators before them; it is a foundation for a rethinking about culture (specifically theatre) - to learn to speak to a new audience. 

Yes, we should be studying Midsummer Night's Dream in school and - who knows? - Cats! But as much as a theatre in the future must be built on a knowledge of the past, it cannot survive on a foundation of produced rehash. Tiresomely familiar works done a new way are not enough anymore. The audience that wants to sing along to the dialogue is dying. As ephemeral as they might become, theatre of the here and now, of immediate concerns is required. 

And that might be an alarming work at this year's Fringe or, even, something by Schiller. But I'll bet you dollars to Timbits, it will likely not be another Midsummer Night's Dream.

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