The Unbearable Banishment: Oh, how I love bad theater

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Oh, how I love bad theater

I love bad theater. The worse, the better, if you know what I mean.

I hadn’t been to a play in about six weeks and I needed a fix. Stop all that eye-rolling. It’s my thing. You do whatever it is you do and I go to plays. Don’t judge, least ye be judged by my wicked hammer of sarcasm. You don’t want that, trust me.

This past season I feasted on a fairly steady diet of Broadway and off-Broadway plays that were celebrity-driven vehicles. Famous actors do a play for 10 weeks to burnish their credibility as artists. Sometimes it works (Scarlett Johansson). Other times, not so much (Catherine Zeta-Jones). I feel like I’d gotten away from the small, black box theaters. These are intimate productions of not-always popular material with actors in training. It’s where the rubber meets the road for actors and audience.

The Potomac Theater Project has taken up its summer residence at The Atlantic Theater Stage 2 in Chelsea. My mind was turning to mush by too much easy, popular fair, so I thought it was time to shut up, take my medicine and suffer through some avant garde theater.

I saw Plevna: Meditations on Hatred and Gary the Thief by British playwright Howard Barker. I knew what I was getting myself into. The two brief one-acts, each with a single actor, are called “theatrical poems.” In the program, Barker describes his work as "'Theatre [sic] of Catastrophe' in which no attempt is made to satisfy any demand for clarity."

Oh, brother.

This stuff is hard to absorb. The dialog was Joycean in its complexity and my understanding (and attention) would fade in and out. But it was a Herculean effort by the actors and I can always appreciate that. The audience included an acting class and the students seemed impressed.

So that's that. I'll probably take in a few more of these small, serious, dreary, experimental plays before the fall season kicks it, just to keep my chops up. In a few weeks, the Potomac will present A Question of Mercy by David Rabe, which is a bit more mainstream. I might drop in on that. But no worries. In October, James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave are doing a revival of Driving Miss Daisy on Broadway, so it won't be long until my brain is back to populist mush. Darth Vader is subservient to an activist for Palestinian rights. That's what you get with famous actors. A lot of baggage and preconceived notions.

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16 Comments:

Anonymous daisyfae said...

we have a summer theatrical festival that consists of 6 plays, never performed before. i haven't yet attended - usually conflicts with my annual celtic festival throwdown.

i'll have several actor friends in the shows this year, and the festival conflicts have been deconflicted.

dare i go? i'm so terrified that i'll bust out laughing at something that isn't supposed to be funny... with friends on stage, and the author in the audience.

July 11, 2010 at 8:45 PM  
Blogger mapstew said...

Here it IS 'theatre'!
Oh us Europeans!

(We actually have a Theatre Centre in our town!)

:¬)

July 11, 2010 at 9:08 PM  
OpenID moreidlethoughts said...

Sometimes...just sometimes, I miss it.

July 11, 2010 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Cat said...

As you know, I hate theater and usually skip over your posts about it, but read today's. I think I understand where you are coming from because I do the same thing with books. I'll read a few long, dreary, torturous but well-written books, but then I combing the vampire romance aisle to find something to chill my brain with.

July 11, 2010 at 11:43 PM  
OpenID livingladolcevita said...

I want a bad play! It's been AAAAGES! I missed the annual National Arts festival to go to Greece (tough decision), so am feeling particularly bereft!

July 12, 2010 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

I would have thought Catherine Z.J. had more stage experience than Scarlet but it doesn't always work.
Do you have to pay the earth at the theatre in New York?

July 12, 2010 at 4:28 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Daisy: You should go. You never know. I've seen some pretty amazing things happen when I least expected it. If nothing else, you should support your friends.

Map: I really should get over the spelling differences, shouldn't I? Okay. I'll not mention it again.

MIT: Come back. COME BACK! You know you want to.

Cat: That's the beauty of suffering through the horrible stuff. Once you see something that's great, you realize just how great it is. It's good for perspective. And thanks for hanging in with an unpopular subject.

Dolce: I would say that missing the National Arts Festival to go to Greece is a pretty fair exchange. Well done, you.

Pat: Look up CZJ's performance on the Tonys. She sang "Send in the Clowns" from the show she was in. It was HAMMY. I assume that 'pay the earth' is a colloquialism for a lot of money. I have a number of schemes I use to get very cheap and, sometimes, free tickets to the theater. If I can't find a way to a discount, I don't go. I never pay retail. I can't! It's too expensive for me!

July 12, 2010 at 6:55 AM  
OpenID kyknoord said...

"...no attempt is made to satisfy any demand for clarity..." Holy shit, Batman! I've just realised that my marriage was an exercise in experimental theatre.

July 12, 2010 at 7:07 AM  
Blogger Everyday Goddess said...

o, brave soul, bearing witness to the avant garde theatrical poems!

and a happy birthday, i guess i missed the cake?

July 12, 2010 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Scarlet Blue said...

Like Daisy, I am afraid of getting the sniggers during these worthy feats.
I do have an actor friend who has done this type of theatre... and he takes it very seriously.
Sx

July 12, 2010 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

kykn: How DARE we request a bit of clarity in our lives and entertainment. And a linear plot?! For shame. Who do we think we are?

EG: Honestly? Sometimes I wander out of the theater and wonder what the hell I'm doing. It's unpopular for a pretty good reason. By the way, I'm not much of a cake person so we had birthday apple pie. Seriously.

Scarlet: Oh, they are a VERY serious bunch. Make no mistake. Some of them truly believe they are putting their lives on the line when they walk onto a stage.

July 12, 2010 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Eryl Shields said...

I, too, love the theatre but because of where I live (beyond provincial-land) and my lack of earning power I never get to go these days. So it's nice to read here what's happening, and that the weird stuff is still supported.

July 12, 2010 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Pueblo girl said...

Oh earnest theatre, how I do not miss you.

There are times I've wanted to stab the actors for their serious critique of today's society as represented by a battle performed by clowns against a string of tin cans (have blocked the name of that particular gem).

July 12, 2010 at 11:50 AM  
OpenID moreidlethoughts said...

Some would-be actors did a lot of "experimental" stuff. Terribly earnest and mostly rubbish. But we did what we could to "be noticed."
I guess my lazy streak was stronger than my acting streak.
But London was full of good stuff in the 60s.
As for "coming back." Nope!Not a chance.

July 12, 2010 at 6:36 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

ES: Sometimes, the weird stuff can make for a memorable evening. But not this time.

PG: You're right about that. It can be a bit too precious at times. The worst is when they're interviewed and yap on and on about their craft.

MIT: It often looks like the actors are having a better time than the audience, which is fair enough, I suppose.

July 12, 2010 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger BrightenedBoy said...

The play sounds interesting, although if clarity is incidental I don't really see how it's art so much as randomly-jumbled words.

July 13, 2010 at 3:06 PM  

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