My attention is torn between watching Al Pacino on Netflix doing Richard III in the brilliant movie, “Looking for Richard” and wanting to comment on the link, which has been making its way around Facebook for awhile. The old story; to create or be entertained? Well, let’s see if I can entertain you, my loyal readers, for awhile (but after reading this, you should immediately open your Netflix and watch this movie).
Should Community Theatre be reviewed “honestly?” The key word is honestly. Honestly. Well, the alternative would be dishonestly. That doesn’t sound like a good idea. Imagine reading a review that begins like this: “I orgasmed three times while watching this play.” Or, “Last night, the actor playing Richard III was suddenly swept into hell midway through the second act when the stage opened up and Beelzebub grabbed him by the Adam’s apple and dragged him into blue flames which consumed him up to his thighs before he disappeared, to wild applause from the aggrieved and vengeful crowd.”
I take it back, dishonest reviews sound like much more fun.
But, drat the luck, I have presented myself, honestly or dishonestly, as someone who has values. (It’s on the web, so it has to be true.) So, honesty makes a comeback, and now must be defined.
I just finished directing a play, Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them. I could review the play, which is obviously silly since I’m completely prejudiced, but nevertheless my review would be honest. Prejudiced, but honest. (I won’t bore you, but honestly I liked the play. I think you should have seen it. It was well directed. I loved the actors, each and every one of them. I could go on.)
What good would honesty be in that circumstance?
And yet . . . and yet that’s all we have. Honesty is the best any of us can achieve, because objectivity is an illusion. Am I objective? No. Is anyone? No. Any reviewer will simply be writing out of his or her own subjectivity. Me, you, Jim Watts, Roger Ebert, or the guy who goes off on a rant on Facebook, we’re all just regurgitating our subjectivity. Well, Ebert’s dead, so maybe he’s more objective than most of us. Hard to say at this point. I’ll ask him next time I see him.
[Just as an aside, because it’s not the point of the article: If reviewers aren’t objective, what does he or she bring to the table that’s any different from my 5 year old grandson, who’s always honest about the plays he sees because he wouldn’t know how to be anything else? Answer—knowledge and taste. Some people know more about the art form than others. And some people have better, more mature or cultivated tastes. And this is good, while at the same time just another example of their subjectivity.]
So, now that I’ve subverted the whole idea of an “honest” review, what the hell am I trying to say here? Do I basically agree or disagree with the article? Okay, no more digressions. I disagree with the article, because I disagree with his definition of honesty. The writer seems to think it’s honest to compare every production to a professional, New York level production. How is this honest? No, seriously, how is this anything but bullshit, excuse my Okieism. (Where the freak did we get "Excuse my French"? I'm going out on a limb here and guess that you know a lot more Okie curse words than French ones.)
Let’s forget about the production of Death of a Salesman in Leakey, Texas, population 183 (you should’ve been there). Let’s talk Tulsa, OK. In fact, let’s talk August: Osage County. I saw the touring production a few years back, with Estelle Parsons in the lead. Mother of God, that was an amazing show. Perhaps the best piece of straight theatre I’ve ever seen. Compared to that, Theatre Pops version last year was potato soup. And yet . . . (God, I love those two words). And yet Liz and Craig’s opening scene was as thrilling and delicious as anything I’ve ever seen onstage, Angela Adams gave such a beautifully nuanced performance that it shamed the TATE’s for not having acting awards, the set was a freaking Tulsa miracle, our community was uplifted through the participation of actors from most of our local companies, and, oh yeah, it was about 1000% better than that crappy movie they with Julia Roberts. A great evening of theatre, deserving of a TATE award, embodying every virtue that theatre can embody. And yet . . . compared to Estelle Parsons . . . potato soup. Okay, now write the review, 500 words—go! Tell us how one of the best shows in Tulsa last year didn’t measure up. Be honest.
There are different things we can compare a show to. For example, if I’d rather be home watching TV than watching the play, well, that’s bad. Watching Hamlet while sitting on those torture devices in the Doenges has to compete against me lying on my comfy couch with a beer watching an episode of Breaking Bad. That’s a valid comparison. And a tough one to live up to. Because Hamlet doesn’t just have to be better, it has to be $30 better, if that’s the price of a ticket.
So it’s not like my standards are low. It’s just that they’re not always “Let’s compare this production of Sweeny Todd with the original Broadway cast.” I ask different questions. Am I impressed with the creative approach, is it a generous performance, does it acknowledge that performance always takes place within a community, is it honest? These are the questions I’m most interested in. And these are the same qualities we can look for in a review—honesty, yes, but also generosity, community, and creativity. I submit that these are the qualities that draw us to live theatre. They are related to professionalism, but not identical to it. Professionalism embodies these things, but ‘amateur’ productions can embody these qualities as well. A little like how punk music was a breath of fresh air compared to the polished, overly ‘professional’ rock music of the day, community theatre can sometimes touch deeper chords than a touring Broadway show does. Both can be valid. Reviews can, and should, reflect that.
I’ve been fairly terrified of Christopher Durang for years now. The idea of directing one of those disturbing dramatic cocktails—one part theatre in-joke, two parts black cynicism, one part domestic abuse—it was all just too intimidating. Was I even sharp enough to know when he was being funny? Would I turn a meant-to-be-silly moment into a twisted comment on existentialist despair? And vice versa?
And that was before. Then, of course, came the debacle. Somehow an evening of Durang short plays at Heller Theatre turned into the eruption of Krakatoa. It was the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs, the closest thing that the Tulsa theatre community will ever have to its own St. Valentine’s Day massacre. The angels wept.
If you don’t already know the story, ask Gramps to tell it to you sometime. Just don’t ask on a stormy night, with the wind whistling like a banshee while the rain hammers at the door. Not on a night when the shadows take on monstrous forms, and the creaking of the walls seems to whisper, “Duraaanng.”
Ah well. Life goes on <shrug>. I’m not going to hold him personally responsible. In fact, that’s what helped me get over my fear of Durang. When the worst has already happened, what’s left to be scared of? So, when Theatre Pops offered me the chance to direct Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them, I got out my list. Theatre in-jokes: check. Cynicism: check. Domestic abuse: check. Add homemade torture, a preacher who makes porn movies, and a maître d’ in a tuxedo, shake well, and put a freaking cherry on top. I’m in.
But here’s the kicker: in some ways (no spoilers here!) Torture is one of the sweetest plays I’ve ever been involved with. (And isn’t that a weird sentence.) Yes, we see people at their worst—always hysterical—but at its heart, there’s a naiveté, an optimism about who we are and what we might become. Sort of reminds me of the song, “Descendant of Amphibians”: Wade through the muck long enough and maybe one day you evolve wings.
If you’ve known me for long, you might have noticed that I’m vastly amused at how incredibly idiotic we can be. (When I taught at ORU, one of the kids said I laughed “like Satan”). But you may also have noticed that I’m as mushy as a 12 year old girl. I tear up at episodes of Antiques Roadshow. Oddly, unexpectedly, I find that, with this play at least, I’ve found a theatrical soul mate. We’re buddies now. Durang and me, cynical sentimentalists.
Anyway, you ought to come see the show. Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them. By my new friend, Chris. It’s funny, disturbing, creepy, and sentimental. At the Liddy Doenges, April 21, 22, 23 at 8 pm, and Sunday April 24 at 2 pm. Only one weekend!
Did you just hear something? Was that the wind? It sort of sounded like . . . Duraaanng.
Rhonda and I saw Steel Magnolias last Saturday at Doenges, and had a marvelous time. James Watts’ did an admirable job of reviewing the show, and since I don’t feel like just repeating what he had to say, I’ll just add a couple of things of note.
One, what a great set! Playhouse is, or at least should be, known for the quality of their scenic production, and this was no exception. The unusual aspect here is that it was not done by their usual designer, Shawn Irish, but is Dan Williams’ work, who also serves as the tech director at ORU. Besides just being great to look at, the set skillfully gave the actors and director Courtneay Sanders a varied, dynamic environment that helped create movement and multiple points of focus. Of course, this play is the ultimate in giving the actors things to do—hair gets washed, dried, curled, and cut, not to mention manicures, decorating for Christmas, phone calls, and all that goes along with operating a beauty salon. If an actress prefers working with props in her hands, Steel Magnolias is a dream come true. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the lighting design by a former student and co-worker of mine, John Plum. Good work John.
Kelsey Kemper as Truvy Jones, the owner/operator of the shop, is a delight. A whirling dervish of Southern fried energy, she sets the pace for the show and keeps the lines fresh—even when some of those ‘old sayings’ are truly as old as the hills. I had seen her in the lead in Hello Dolly a few years back at ORU and was equally impressed with her musical theatre talents. This is a young actress with loads of promise.
Sidney Treat, 73 years young this Saturday according to her bio, also deserves special mention. Even on an off day, Sid is one of the funniest people on the planet, and the role of Ouiser seems as if written especially for her. Combine an impeccable sense of timing with a jaundiced air that says I’ve-seen-it-all-before-and-it-all-makes-me-laugh, and you have what are easily the funniest moments in the show. This production also marks the return of Julie Tattershall to the Tulsa stage as an actor, after a long absence of something like 10, 12 years? As Artistic Director for Heller Theatre for 25+ years, Julie had plenty of credits as director, but rarely found time to act, and it’s good to see her back onstage again where she shines.
Steel Magnolias is written to be an ensemble piece for six actresses that can balance and keep up with each other, and Playhouse’s production pulls that off winningly. A fun show and well worth seeing.
Arts Alliance Tulsa
Green Room OK
Tulsa Little Theatre
Tulsa Weekly Roundup
Am. Theatre Co.
BA Community Playhouse
Clark Youth Theatre
G Rated Theatre
Midwestern Theater Co.
Muskogee Little Theatre
Owasso Comm. Theatre
Sand Springs Comm. Th.
Sapulpa Comm. Theatre
Tulsa Latino Theatre
Tulsa Project Theatre
Tulsa Rep. Musicals
Tulsa Spotlight Theatre