Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The year in theater

It's getting on time for all of those year-in-review posts. There's that little facebook app that makes pretty little graphic out of random status updates, but all it does it tell you that we sold a house, bought one, had a baby, and have been raising him and his older siblings.

With all of that personal stuff going on, it might surprise you to know that it was a fairly eventful year theatre-wise--in terms of spectatorship and scholarship. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that I taught the Theatre Tour class in the spring, followed by and intro drama course in the fall, but I thought I might do a post that gave a little tour of some of the highlights of my theatre going year.

Scholarship: I published my Equus article in the spring, and while it was sort of a one-off--the offshoot of the first theatre tour, it felt good to have it out. It felt like a substantial contribution to the discourse on that once-again-zeitgeist-y play, and at the same time was fun to research and write. I also did a long talk for Nels on pain, performance and performativity which could someday be a full article. In May, I wrote an article on documentary performances surrounding the "war on terror," this for a collection on political theatre post-9/11. After the baby was born, the writing slowed down a bit, but I pecked away at the book manuscript that was once a dissertation, something I'm still working at.

In November, I participated in the fantastic Contemporary Women Playwrights session at ASTR. For that working group, I was required to read several plays, many new to me. Highlights include Judith Thompson's amazing Palace of the End, DebbieTucker Green's gut-wrenching Stoning Mary, Rebecca Lenkiewicz's illuminating her Naked Skin, and Marina Carr's lovely yet harrowing Woman and Scarecrow.

At the moment, I'm procrastinating on revising a draft of my upcoming MLA talk on Eve Ensler, which has to be cut down to 15 minutes, which means i'm having trouble getting to my point more than a page before the time limit is up. I may not have mentioned this, but I'm not a big fan. Come to my MLA talk and you'll hear why.

Plays I saw: several at the American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars reproduction, including Hamlet and R&G in rep. There's a sort of commonplace about doing those two together, which is that you can't really do both well together. If you cast for an excellent Hamlet there's little chance to get the madcap feeling of R&G, but if you go the comic route for R&G, you get a ridiculous Hamlet. We got the latter, with an only-OK R&G to make up for it. The other Hamlet we saw was a University production that was quite ably done...better than the ASC production by a yard. ASC's biggest success of our experience was an eye-opening production of Middleton's The Changeling which brought what I had always imagined to be a pretty salacious text to very entertaining life.

We also took a trip to DC to see three productions. The most interesting was a vibrant, messy, provocative production of Brecht's Roundheads and Peakheads which turned out to be the last weekend of the final production of Catalyst Theatre, a cutting-edge little theatre venture that was an unfortunate victim of the economic bust. My students didn't love it, but that play, hingeing as it does on an unfortunate parallel with pre-holocaust Germany, getting its predictions quite wrong and risking always a nasty potential anti-semitic echo. This production shifted away from history entirely, which is fine, but removes one of the more compelling angles to even revive the play in the first place.

We also took in Albee's A Delicate Balance at Arena, with a crackerjack cast, including Kathleen Chalfant (Wit, Angels in America) and Ellen McLaughlin (the actual Angel of Angels in America). It was a beautifully polished production, if a little soulless. It was also the setting for one of the oddest experiences I've ever had as an audience member: I had asked my students to take notes during production so that they would be able to write about them in more detail. This is something I've been doing for years, and I've never gotten so much as a sidelong glance. But several of the students had seats in the front row, right in front of a spot on the apron of the stage that was sort of an imaginary window in the fourth wall, so Chalfant often delivered her lines from this spot, as if delivering them while looking out onto her lawn.

During the second intermission, a tech came out to us, and asked my students to please put away their notebooks: they were "distracting the actors." The two students who were addressed in particular looked baffled, but they complied. And during her first monologue in the third act, sure enough, Chalfant shot a glance downward at us, and seeing that those notebooks had been stashed away, visibly relaxed.

There was, understandably, no theatregoing during the summer, and this fall my options have been limited. The one production I was looking desperately forward to, though, was a campus production of Timberlake Wertenbaker's beautiful The Love of the Nightingale. Wertenbaker, a British playwright, is not a household name in the U.S., but her lyrical body of work is, to my mind, a highlight of feminist theatre's boom in the last three decades of the 20th century (the subject of my book). I've published on this play, and when I was working for a DC theatre company during grad school, it had always been one we'd hoped to do, but cast requirements were too big, and our budget too small. Whenever I interviewed for jobs that had a directing requirement, this play was one I mentioned as a great choice for university stages. So as you can imagine, I already had a pretty clear picture of it in my head.

I required my drama students to read it, and I had gotten some reports on it during rehearsals and such. It was, of course, hardly a perfect production, and the director made some choices that found a different emphasis for the play than I would have chosen to highlight, but seeing students do good plays well always carries a charge, and that the play made an important political statement about women and violence, I was happy enough to have seen it.

So that's the year in theatre. We'll see what next year holds!


Sisyphus said...

I looove The Changeling ... seriously, I am obsessed! How fun that you got to see it. And I wrote on A Delicate Balance for an undergrad theater survey class, long ago. Liked it, didn't understand it a bit. And R&G is a favorite of mine as well.

I actually saw a whole lot of plays this year: Buried Child and Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?(.) Two: that's a bunch for me.

My niece tells me that she saw a student production of Rabbit Holes and loved it... I think our school is going to put that on too, so maybe I need to go see some plays next year as well.


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