Theatre Matters

Contemplations on the dramatic arts from a national perspective

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Steven Oxman has contributed to such publications as the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Stagebill, and, most frequently, Variety, for which he has written over 300 television and theatre reviews.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Why I'm Sometimes Embarrassed to Be a Critic

This kind of piece, found in Backstage, makes me cringe.

I had high hopes upon starting it. I thought it was going to be about how critics perceive theatre differently because they go so often. It's a worthy topic, and one I'll ponder in writing at some future time. I'm in a somewhat interesting position because I'm a binge theatre-goer. For certain years of my life, I'll go to the theatre hundreds of times, while when I'm off making some cash instead, I'll attend maybe a dozen shows in a year. My expectations and perceptions -- in fact, my very theatre-going experience -- changes.

But this piece quickly deteriorates into the petty gripes of Los Angeles theatre critics, which include friends of the actors hanging out in lobbies before a show and laughing too loud during it; bad phone rings; shopping bags that don't coordinate with the appropriate geographic grocery stores for the setting, etc.

Yes, sadly, this really is what local theatre critics in Los Angeles talk about when they get together.

I should note that I have read, and in some cases, met and talked to, some of the critics mentioned in this piece (as far as I can recall, I don't know the author, Wenzel Jones). And at least a couple of them are actually very competent critics. To them, these items are undoubtedly merely distractions -- they're annoying because they take focus away from what's really important in a play, such as the quality of the writing, the acting, the sense of narrative drive, etc. Not to mention the passion, the sense of purpose, the style of theatricality, the feeling evoked, the tension created, and more etc.

There are critics though -- plenty of them -- who think that reviewing a show really is about assessing the quality of the phone ring or the label of the shopping bag. And articles that present critics this way, or, as this piece does, put the emphasis on these small items rather than what really matters, do a disservice to both critics and the theatre itself.

It's enough to give critics a bad name!


Monday, January 24, 2005

Ah, the Appeal of the Unappealing

Good article from Peter Marks in The Washington Post about reviving "lost" plays.

I used to thrill at the idea of someone taking a "forgotten" play, a work that has sat on dusty shelves for centuries, and giving it new life. To this day, however, I've yet to see the lost play that really, truly deserved to be found.

That day will come.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Blame

More on the important events in England regarding the play Bhezti. Those who read the previous postings on this know that "Bhezti" is the play commissioned by Birmingham Rep in England by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, a Sikh woman playwright. The production was cancelled due to violence at the theatre from a group of Sikhs offended by the play's portrayal of a sexual act in a holy place.

I received a note and a link from a reader named Michael Ladenson. Here's the link. It takes you to an essay in "City Journal," which lays at least some of the blame for the Bhezti affair at the hands of the playwright:

"[I]t does not follow from the fact that the mob was reprehensible and the
reaction of officialdom was cowardly that the theater and the playwright were
blameless. Sikh leaders had warned both of them before the play’s opening that
trouble would result if they did not amend the play slightly. They asked that
the offending scene take place in a Sikh community center rather than in a
temple: in other words, they were not denying that Sikhs could behave in a
degrading way toward women. The scene’s essential point could be preserved
without causing unnecessary offence.

"The playwright and the theater refused to countenance the requested
change, asserting an absolute right to say anything they pleased. The idea that,
in a civilized society, one should be willing to cause offence only in
proportion to the intellectual and moral importance of the point one is
attempting to make was too subtle for them. But only egotists, with little
sympathy for the feelings of others, claim the right to cause offense
gratuitously."


As I wrote in response to Michael's email:

"I actually take issue with the article you linked to. I don't know the play, and I'd have to read it to know, but I think the difference between sex in a mosque and sex in a community center is quite vast in terms of its potential dramatic impact. I will say that I stand by the protestors right to criticize the play. But the answer to offensive speech is not less speech but more of it. By actual and threatened violence, they have done a disservice to all. Any effort to put the "blame" on the playwright is missplaced."

Since then, I discovered this article on the matter, which clarifies the theatre's position during the discussions with Sikhs who were offended:

"The decision of one group of Sikhs to lobby for changes to a play written
and performed by members of their own community in their town is one thing.
Their refusal to rule out violence and consequently force its closure is quite
another. This censorship of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s black comedy Behzti
should not be allowed to stand.

"The cheering thing about the debate that preceded the opening of
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s black comedy Behzti at Birmingham Rep theatre,
was that it was held at all. Both sides – theatre and Sikh community – met to
make their points before the show opened.

"Significant concessions were made by the theatre. A statement from the
local Sikh community would be distributed at the venue; peaceful public protest
would not be opposed; the programme would include positive messages about the
Sikh faith. But throughout it was understood that the play could not be
censored, let alone banned. Until the weekend’s violent events and the change to
the Sikh community's agenda that followed.

"Under pressure from their own mob, Birmingham’s Sikhs abandoned
negotiation. Refusing to guarantee that there would be no more attacks on the
theatre, they stood back and let the men of violence take over. "


As is usually true in these situations, media descriptions of the events are unreliable, and I'd certainly be interested in knowing more.

But I stand firmly by my statement: the answer to offensive speech is more speech, not less. The theatre was right to seek a way to help the protestors express their perspective peacefully, and right to shut down the production rather than compromise the play.

The Royal Court -- one of London's most respected theatrical institutions -- is considering producing the play.



Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Sadness

Thanks to George Hunka at Superfluities for drawing my attention to two articles from the U.K. paper The Guardian (and, while I'm at it, thanks to Arts Journal for everything I've linked to from there). They deal with the censorship issues discussed in this previous post of mine, which I called "The Ugliness."

First, there's a passionate statement from Sikh playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, whose play Bhezti has been cancelled due to threats of violence.

Second, there's an essay about the BBC's airing of Jerry Springer, the Opera.

Maybe I shouldn't be calling this "The Sadness." Maybe it should be "The Anger."

Music, Theatre, and the Continuing Debate

A.C. Douglas has engaged! He's begged for more! So don't blame me for what happens now!

Narrative thinker that I am, I feel like we've got to reproduce the sequence of events here to make the appropriate points.

As you'll undoubtedly recall, ACD started it. He asked George Hunka: "Why should live theater survive as an art form today when film seems better able to do a play justice?".

He then got myriad responses, which, in his inimitably voluble, and somewhat aggressive, writing style, he took to task for failing to answer his question, because instead of discussing what he called the "artwork" itself, the play text, the responders pondered the interpretative aspects of live performance versus film. To Mr. Douglas, this was irrelevant, even -- get ready to cringe in pity at his cruelty -- "humanist."

After insulting him for failing to engage with those who'd attempted to address the issue by disagreeing with its premise, I asked Mr. Douglas a question: "Do you go to see live music, even though the studio can do it 'better'? If so, why?"

He sent me an email with a link to an article he posted last August, which I then claimed answered his original question as well as anyone else had.

But Mr. Douglas will not be satisfied with his own genius, and he posted his response.

There are now two, inter-connected discussions going on. One has to do with the comparison of music versus theatre, and their similarities and differences. The other has to do with the comparison of theatre versus film, specifically as it relates to plays being done as films. The two strains are highly related to each other because I, and others, argue that the recording of classical music and the filming of theatre are similar. Mr. Douglas disagrees.

"I suggest to Mr. Oxman that he apply consistently his own formula in my above quoted graf. If he does, just how will he make the appropriate theatrical substitution for "music" in, say, the sentence that reads: "One hears music differently in a live performance, and that hearing simply cannot be experienced via a reproduction no matter how good the reproduction may be...."? Would he then say, "One hears the text differently in a live performance, and that hearing simply cannot be experienced via a reproduction no matter how good the reproduction may be...."?"

Yes, I would say that. How? I would say "one experiences drama differently in a live performance... no matter how good the filming may be...." Give me a moment. I'll expand on that in a bit.

Mr. Douglas then separates music from theatre by saying that theatre is made up of text, and therefore the two forms speak to different parts of the brain.

"When heard recorded versus live, a certain portion of the music's fundamental sense as music (as opposed to nuances and subtleties of interpretation) is in some degree altered, or even lost.... With a play, however, its fundamental sense determined as it is by a series of ordered words, which is to say, it's text [sic], the fundamental sense of that text remains precisely the same whether heard live in the theater or recorded in a film, and the words and sentences retain their exact same fundamental sense and meaning as language in both mediums. The fundamental sense and meaning of the word-order 'To be or not to be' is precisely the same whether spoken live on stage or reproduced in film (or read on the page, for that matter).

"Although music is commonly referred to metaphorically as a language, it's a language of a unique sort that by its very nature bypasses the intellectual processing centers of our brains, and speaks directly to our centers of feeling where the gestalt of its fundamental sense and meaning as music (again, as opposed to nuances and subtleties of performance and interpretation) is first 'understood,' instantly and all at once."


You're a quibbler, Mr. D., and I'm concerned to take this on too much. First, because I am not a music expert. More importantly, because I think you'll take the opportunity to make the argument about the metaphor rather than the real subject, the fact that theatre is not so easily transported to celluloid.

That said, I still don't see the difference. You say that theatre can be recorded without changing the artwork because "To be or not to be" will still be the same words and in the same order -- therefore, the "artwork" isn't changed. But isn't that also true of music? The notes will still be the same, and in the same order. The experience of the listener is different, but the underlying "artwork" -- the notes themselves -- is unchanged.

I'll return to the subject, because this goes to the heart of what I see as your misunderstanding of theatre, but please allow me a digression. Thank you for your patience.

This is not an easy conversation to have, in part because we theatre-lovers are a defensive lot, betrothed to a form that reigned in a previous era but which now faces the constant accusation of irrelevancy when compared to mass media, and, even worse, an economic reality that means the form itself is reduced so often to one-person bio-confessionals (Oy, could I make a list!) and two-person formula plays that really would be better off as Hallmark TV movies but aren't good enough (a gay man gets community service for a driving violation and is forced to care for an elderly Jewish man -- that's the set-up of a play called "Visiting Mr. Green," and it's all-too-typical).

It's also hard because the topic is simply too big, demanding answers to questions like: what is theatre? how does it differ from film? what's the "artwork," the play text or the performance or some imagined performance in the head of the playwright who writes the text? Now, I appreciate the ambition of all this, and am willing to tackle it a bit, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking we're going to solve the perennial puzzle that has been left unsolved despite the best efforts of people far more insightful than myself. Like, say, Antonin Artaud.

It's hard to describe why theatre matters to people, what makes it such a special art form, particularly when there are other thriving, far more popular forms -- film and TV -- that can deal in similar narrative structure. But those who love theatre know that it starts with the basic premise that it is different. We've experienced its difference, felt it in our bodies and known it in our minds, even though we often have difficulty articulating it (I'm not saying we shouldn't try to, just that it's tough.)

Before Mr. Douglas accuses me of sentimentality and, heaven forfend, humanism, by saying that we feel the difference, let me point out that Mr. Douglas seems to have just as much difficulty describing why classical music can only fully be appreciated live.

From his piece last August:

"[A] recorded performance is a musical experience quite different from the musical experience of a live concert."

"I mean the two experiences are two different musical experiences. One hears music differently in a live performance, and that hearing simply cannot be experienced via a reproduction no matter how good the reproduction may be in both recording and playback."

"I'll not pretend to know why it is that one hears and experiences music differently live versus recorded, or in what, precisely, in physical and psychological terms, the difference consists. I know only that the difference exists, and that it's meaningful musically. "

And from his most recent response to me:

"For when I said in my above quoted graf that one hears (classical) music differently in a live versus recorded performance, I meant one hears the music differently qua music. When heard recorded versus live, a certain portion of the music's fundamental sense as music (as opposed to nuances and subtleties of interpretation) is in some degree altered, or even lost...."

I've been searching for a more lucid explanation, but instead all I find is his passionate belief that this is so. By the way, I believe him, I just think that he has yet to express this difference in words, and was particularly unfair to those who tried to express similar passionate beliefs about the theatre. When theatre is filmed it is no longer theatre, a play loses its fundamental sense as theatre. It may still work as "narrative," and depending on the play and how the film was directed, it may on occasion even be "better," but the "artwork" itself is different.

I have a practical musical question for you, A.C. When a recording is made of, say, a string quartet, do the musicians play the music in the studio the same way they would in a live concert? At the same volume? Do they have to completely re-interpret the music to adjust? If they do, I'm sure you would say that matters "musically," correct, not just as a "nuance" of interpretation?

Well, in the adaptation of theatre to film, the adjustment is drastic. The pitch of the dialogue must be reduced significantly: the volume with which actors speak must be totally recalibrated.

But even that doesn't begin to touch on the more meaningful differences.

First and foremost, Mr. Douglas's view of theatre is myopic. He has now taken opera and removed it from the equation because it contains classical music and therefore isn't as good recorded as live. So opera doesn't count, and I suppose any theatre that contains music could thus also be removed.

His argument also doesn't apply at all to theatre that is not based on text or contains any elements of improvisation. Cirque du Soleil is a type of theatre -- probably the most popular theatre in today's world (I've blogged on it before, and have been meaning to do so again for months). There's no text, and it's not a "play," but it is theatre. And the video version of the Cirque shows -- blech! they're terrible! they don't capture any of the environmental mood that's so essential.

Now, before Mr. Douglas simply dismisses those by saying, in essence, that he was talking about plays and not musicals or circuses or non-textual theatre, I believe even text-based theatre -- and I have to qualify this and say quality text-based theatre, not the "Visiting Mr. Green"s of the world -- has its own musicality and creates its own environment.

The basic point here is that Mr. Douglas's idea of theatre as a compilation of dialogue that speaks solely to the intellectual processing portion of our brains displays a fundamental ignorance of the art form. What's often important in a play is what is "written" in the silences, what the playwright has designed to be "happening" between the characters and the emotional impact the events are designed to have on the audience. To completely separate out the "experience" from the "artwork,", as Mr. Douglas has attempted to do, is impossible, because it's one way in which a playwright structures the art to begin with, thinking about how it builds, how it creates suspense, releases tension, etc. These things aren't written in the dialogue or stage directions, but they're there. And doing these things in the theatre is often extremely different than doing them on film.

Finally, while theatre might have "less" to work with than film, the limitations are part of what makes imagination emerge. Compare the stampede in the film of "The Lion King" and the stampede as created by director Julie Taymor onstage, and you can see how a less "realistic," more "theatrical" approach can be better.

So as not to rely on a musical as compared to an animated film, I'll also suggest something more obscure as an example. In 1987, those old enough will likely recall the film "Wall Street." There was also that same year a play by the great Caryl Churchill, called "Serious Money," set in the London equivalent of Wall Street. You've never heard of it because when they replaced the London cast (which originally included Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina) with Americans, the production apparently didn't work in New York and bombed. I saw it in London and it was spectacular. It couldn't possibly be put on film, because it was so stylized. But it captured the frenzied feeling of being on the trading floor way better than "Wall Street" did. Could the text be recaptured on film? Sure. But the "play" couldn't be. The artwork was designed to create an environment -- a sensation. Film can show you the reality better, but done well, theatre can give you the greater truth. Provide that particular play with an actual on-site location, instead of just a bare space with chairs and tables, and you've ruined it. Record it and watch it on video, and I assure you it won't even resemble what it was like to see it performed.

By the way, it was in verse. And it spoke to more than the rational part of my brain.

It was theatre. And it was beautiful.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Correction on the Filming of "Film"

I'm sure this will be the first of many. I mentioned as part of my ongoing discussion with A.C. Douglas that Samuel Beckett wrote and directed a film called Film. I've now received email from two readers noting my sloppy error. Beckett did not direct the film. That task fell to Beckett's frequent collaborator, Alan Schneider.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Ugliness

The protests over the BBC airing of "Jerry Springer, the Opera" are getting ugly. First, see my previous posting on the irony of these protests to begin with. Then check out this news story. Key quote:

"'BBC staff and their families have received a significant number of abusive and threatening telephone calls, some of which have been reported to the police as criminal matters,' the spokesman said.

Christian protestors had demonstrated peacefully outside the BBC's London offices before and during the broadcast on Saturday night, condemning the show's profane language and portrayal of Jesus as a fat man wearing a diaper.

But the campaign of abusive phone calls, many answered in daytime by the executives' young children, had taken the protest to an unacceptable level, a BBC source told Reuters.

'These staff have been harassed and bullied way beyond what is acceptable in a free and democratic society,' the source said."

(By the way, as I recall, Jesus is not portrayed as a fat man in a diaper. He's played by the same actor who also, in Act I, portrays a different character who's in a diaper. Is it, therefore, because Jesus is portrayed as fat?)

Perhaps these protesters were inspired by the successful protests of some Sikhs, whose threats of violence managed to stop production of a play by a Sikh writer because the black comedy portrayed sex in a mosque. Read about it here.

Of course, there's no way such censorship could happen in America. We're not afraid of free expression, even if we find it offensive.

Are we?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Answer to the Question

So the winner for best answer to A.C. Douglas's question -- "Why should live theater survive as an art form today when film seems better able to do a play justice?" -- comes from... A.C. Douglas.

In my previous posting, I asked him: "Do you go to see live music, even though the studio can do it 'better'? If so, why?"

He sent me an email with a quick statement and a link to a post of his from last August:

"[N]o, with classical music (the only music I involve myself with) the studio*cannot* 'do it better.' For an explanation why, see:http://www.soundsandfury.com/soundsandfury/2004/08/the_live_classi.html "

The post is long, so let me excerpt the most pertinent parts:

"[R]ecorded performance is a musical experience quite different from the musical experience of a live concert. And by that, I don't mean merely that playing back a recorded performance in a home environment can't equal the acoustic experience of a performance in a concert hall, even given a superbly recorded performance, superb reproduction equipment, and the most elaborately and carefully prepared listening environment. I mean the two experiences are two different musical experiences. One hears music differently in a live performance, and that hearing simply cannot be experienced via a reproduction no matter how good the reproduction may be in both recording and playback....

"I'll not pretend to know why it is that one hears and experiences music differently live versus recorded, or in what, precisely, in physical and psychological terms, the difference consists. I know only that the difference exists, and that it's meaningful musically. And, pace Glenn Gould, it's well to remember that the experience of classical music live, whether in the chamber or the concert hall, is the way all classical music was intended to be heard and experienced by its composers, past and present. From music's very beginnings the live music experience has been sine qua non for the development of refined musical discernment and tastes, and so, I'm convinced, it shall remain."

Seriously, replace the "musical experience" with "theatrical experience," and nobody responding to Mr. Douglas's query has said it better. Now, I suppose he thinks these are fundamentally different, but I really don't see how. Perhaps the answer to the question all along was as simple as his statement to me: Film can't serve a play better than a theatrical production.

ACD took up this subject when George Hunka suggested the parallel to music previously. That ACD post is here, but I'll excerpt the key analogy:

"A film of, say, Beckett's Godot (i.e., made as a film, not a filmed record of the stage play) is potentially, inherently and in itself, capable of producing a more convincing aesthetic product in terms of the play itself than the play presented live on stage...."

This is just not true at all. I consider myself a Beckett aficionado -- he changed the way I see the world. But Beckett's plays are pure "plays," and even the effort to film them -- PBS did a whole series of his works for television -- are distant and ineffectual, the equivalent of a catalogue reproduction of a masterpiece painting as compared to a viewing of the canvas itself -- useful, but not a substitution for experiencing the real thing. In all his plays, Beckett explored the very essence of theatricality, the passage of time itself. Put Beckett's play Play on film, and you are not getting the play. I should note that Beckett did write and direct a film. It was called, of course, Film, and starred Buster Keaton late in his life. Beckett explored his typical obsessions with consciousness, but did so in a different way, since it was written as a film.

To return to the basic premise: Sure, there are plays that make good films, and are even better as films than they were on stage. (And similarly, ACD recognizes that his discussion doesn't necessarily apply beyond classical music-- there could well be music that is "better" recorded than live.) But plays with even an ounce of theatricality are intended to be seen in the theatre; one cannot fully appreciate the artwork (and I'm using ACD's interpretation that the written script is the artwork, a controversial claim in and of itself) without seeing it in its intended medium.

What is theatricality? That's for another day, or year. And just because a play makes a very good film, doesn't mean it wasn't theatrical. Two very recent examples: "Chicago" and "Angels in America." Actually, those who see those shows in the theatre gain not just a greater respect for the plays, but also a greater appreciation for the clever ways they were adapted for the different medium. The artwork was changed to accommodate the filming.

OK, I'll stop. Unless you beg for more!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Theatre, Film, and the Great Blogger Debate

A nice number of very intelligent arts bloggers are discussing a question that goes to the heart of this blog's subject. So it's time for me to join in the conversation -- just as everyone else is probably getting tired of it.

It began by A.C. Douglas asking George Hunka why he should bother going to the theatre when film can do better. ACD's own summation of his question: "Why should live theater survive as an art form today when film seems better able to do a play justice?"

George (my savior -- see previous posting) responded thoughtfully. Read here.

Isaac Butler at Parabasis chimed in. His first posting on the issue is here.

I've also been enjoying uTopian TurtleTop on the matter, particularly for his sharing of moments he's experienced in the theatre that were un-filmic.

First, I'm starting to understand the blogosphere a bit better. When an argument like this starts, you can't miss a day or so much has been argued that it'll take a week to catch up. Some of it's good and provocative; some of it's not-so-good and provocative. If the episode was intended to help A.C. Douglas understand the aesthetics of theatre any better, it's obviously been a miserable failure. He still doesn't get it and won't. (At the risk of offending him and maybe others, there's something about his writing that I find masturbatory -- others' arguments are valuable only for self-indulgent titillation and abuse, not for him to engage with. If he'd like to respond and prove me wrong, might I ask him: do you go to see live music, even though the studio can do it "better"? If so, why?)

No matter what, his challenge has been helpful in forcing others to articulate their love of the theatre.

I spent too much time churning my mind on the theoretical arguments and how I could contribute, but enough has been said. Too much philosophizing on the theatre makes me mad at myself. I'd like to say something a little different.

What would happen if theatre stopped existing?

OK, the world wouldn't change. It's important to say that and others have kept this perspective too.

But the film world would surely be the worse for it. Someone (sorry, don't have the patience to re-find and source) mentioned the concern that theatre is often considered the minor leagues, simply a farm team for the film world. In an economic sense, it is, and we shouldn't try to fight it, cuz we'll lose.

Sam Mendes was able to make a first film of significant depth ("American Beauty") because he understood how to work with actors from his years as a stage director. There's something so much fuller in the film work of actors and directors who've gone through the rigors of developing a part for the stage and finding a way to re-create it each and every performance. Sure, plenty of pure film stars are extremely effective, but it's performance that's all inspiration and little craft. The best has both.

Paul Giamatti's performance in "Sideways" is a good example. He was trained for the stage, and his craft is obvious. It's not easy to make yourself quite so vulnerable, or to build up a head of sincere steam for a line like, "If anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving!"

I wish that more film directors and actors would recognize the power of seeing a sustained performance. I want longer takes, and shots that keep one actor on screen continuously so we can see the emotional movement happen and not have the result suddenly present in the next close-up. Yes, film reels can only go so long, and that has long limited any take to 16 minutes at most. But all that is potentially changing with digital technology, and 16 minutes is a long time anyway.

Film can do a lot of what theatre can do, and can often do it better. But film can learn lessons from theatre that it too often ignores.


Jerry Springer and the BBC

I don’t know how I missed this. This weekend, the BBC will air its taped version of the London stage show, “Jerry Springer, the Opera.” The protests have been unprecedented. An article is here.

I saw the show in London and it’s one of my favorite theatrical experiences of the last several years. And I’m someone who just can’t watch the TV show – I cringe in disgust and turn away (yes, really, I turn the channel).

But “Jerry Springer, The Opera” is something wholly different.

The first act is an operatic depiction of a typical Springer TV episode, replete with its stock characters (e.g. the “chick with a dick”). But the characters express themselves in operatic terms. Well, maybe “operatic terms” isn’t the right phrase, given that their terms include “I’ve Been Seeing Someone Else.” But at least they express themselves in operatic style and music. At the end of the first act, Jerry gets shot, and the second act takes him to Hell, where he’s forced to moderate a Springer-style confrontation between God and the Devil.

Who could possibly be offended? And why wasn’t PBS the first to pounce? (Heh, heh, heh)

Really, though, think about this: This show examines a “low” cultural phenomenon – and you can’t deny the Springer show is a phenomenon – and creates “high” art with it. It takes something ugly and uses it to make something worthwhile (should “worthwhile” also be in quotes?). I still can’t and won’t watch the TV show, but the Opera has made me understand its appeal a whole lot better: people crave something larger than life, even if it reaches for the dirt rather than the heavens.

So here’s where we are. The disgusting but popular work -- the TV show -- gets canonized in the popular consciousness. The revelatory contemplation of that show’s “meaning” gets massive protests? Anyone see anything wrong here?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Oh My God You're Actually READING This?

I suppose there's a first for every blogger.

I've been away for awhile, in Atlanta and then Los Angeles. Didn't much think about theatre, except for sadly not having a chance to see the Mark Taper's production of "The School for Scandal."

Then I got back, thought about blogging, and a mild sense of dread came over me. What if I have nothing to say? Maybe I should drop it.

Two things have happened since. First, I read John Lahr's profile of Tony Kushner in a recent "New Yorker." A truly wonderful portrait of one of our only significant playwright-intellectuals, the article captures Kushner at his most insecure. If he can do it, then maybe I can find an iota of inspiration in my own doubt that I have much to contribute.

The second event is more of a blogging rite-of-passage. Somebody e-mailed me about the blog! And, unlike the only other e-mails I've received, I hadn't e-mailed him first.

So, thank you, George Hunka of the blog Superfluities (http://www.ghunka.com) Since you're actually reading this, I guess I've got to keep adding to the fucking thing!