In on It at Theater Alliance
Flu Season at Catalyst Theater
The other night I met someone not in theater. When told that I worked for a theater company he said, “yeah, I see Broadway plays sometimes but so many of them are about being in theater, it doesn’t relate to me.” I was about to argue, “that’s Broadway, so many plays about plays but in regional theaters…” but then I realized it’s prevalent through out all size theaters and where you least expect it. That weekend I found myself seeing two shows that were not backstage dramas but were very much about the art of theater.
Two men are on stage. Their characters keep shifting as they tell two stories that don’t seem to relate. One story is their story; how they met, the cute and awkward way they fell in love. One story they acknowledge they are acting out. They are playing parts. They swap parts, with one taking the one the other did last time. They alter how they are performing the parts. They discuss it. It is a show within a show. In On It is a meditation on life as the audience discovers that the story being told is one about how quickly the end can come, and how lives and deaths are intertwined. Yet the story is told in a purely theatrical way acknowledging and playing into the theatrical.
In Flu Season, the story, of love lost and found and lost again, of people connecting and disconnecting, also acknowledges and plays into the theatrical. At the top of the show the audience is introduced to the prologue, optimistic as one must be at the start of the play, and the epilogue, pessimistic and knowing. The epilogue tracks the playwrights disatsfaction with the story he is writing and eventually the playwrights desire to destroy his characters. In the process the eager prologue ends up emotionally wrecked. The love story has sweet moments but the important story being told is that of telling the story. The inner story could be anything. We are watching a playwright writing.
The non-theater worker’s comments and the overtly theatricalized theater I’ve seen recently starting to make me wonder about the audience. I fully believe that playwrights, as artists, should write whatever they want. And daring companies should always take chances on producing their new work. But is there too much self-referential theater? Or maybe that’s not the question, but are there the audiences to support self-referential theater? At both shows the audience was over half theater workers (maybe more – I only recognized half). Of course those who work in theater are more likely to go (but less likely to pay). Does it matter? Even if the plays were written for a theater working audience and they are the only ones who sees it, does it matter? Maybe a company could/should be created to specialize only in plays about plays for people who work on plays.