Friday, October 4, 2013

A Fly on the Wall, October 4, 2013

Hearts and Minds
by Jim Murchison

There are dark corners in the recesses of our psyche. How we explore these places determines whether a play succeeds or fails. There are productions that examine very dark issues with a sense of humour that work very well. Black humour that invokes nervous laughter can be incredibly effective. If one chuckles or guffaws at the same time they are sweating, gasping and thinking they shouldn't find this funny it will stay with them. If art pulls at your heart and your conscience simultaneously or causes you to break out in laughter in the middle of uncontrolled weeping then it has achieved that very rare effect of grabbing your head and your senses.

When the lines of genius and madness; laughter and tears; fear and hostility; love and hate get blurred or fuse together it forces you to examine not only how you think but what you feel. Sweeney Todd did that for me when I made my one and only visit to Broadway. I had never imagined singing love songs to straight edge razors or a humorous waltz about what type of people might get ground into meat pies and I was blown away. The next day I saw Evita and could not believe how trite and stupid it was for all the hoopla around it. Not only was Evita about something that should have been far more relevant that was turned into something trivial, but the music was nowhere near as good.

I know that Sweeney Todd was not primarily loved for a keen examination of social issues and class structure but it was an element that ran through and textured the play. A madly entertaining melodrama can reach you on many levels if it scares you, makes you laugh and you leave the theatre humming the tunes. For a show to do that takes a great deal of skill from all the players and particularly from the writer.

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