A Case for the Return of Some Vanishing Stage Customs

Let's cheat this year

The Anarchist fell victim to this triple whammy. Emotionally cut off from the performers by the author's flat direction, the easily distracted audience made the snap judgment that this densely written, even convoluted script was flat and simplistic; some probably mistook it for one of Mamet's annoying political blogorations. But Mamet's a playwright, not a political thinker. His play had the ill luck to arrive while the world was living on that information-laden cloud where facile statements regularly trump more complex meanings, not just temporarily, but for as long as their Web links last.

The Internet has brought incredible benefits, making data universally accessible and shaping giant communities. But it's also diminished our lives, by disconnecting us from the direct experience of other human beings. Along with the free expression of opinion that opens doors and stimulates serious discussion, it has nurtured the kind of psycho-individualism that lives only to post its own anger, oblivious to what anyone else might feel or say. That anger, utterly locked in itself yet out on the cloud for all to see, is the force that massacres. Theater, which by its very existence shows us that we all share a common humanity, is a key part of the great civilizing counterforce.

A lot of theater people lately have been struggling to invent ways for live performance to assert itself more strongly against the electronic onslaught: "interactive" works that you meander through, like art installations, only confrontational; one-on-one experiments in intimacy; cabaret-like events that resemble drinking parties with impromptu entertainment. There's no harm in these, old ideas all. Ultimately, they may alter the theater's conventions. But I doubt that they'll change its essence. The theater, that tiny piece of spiritual turf so dwarfed by global media transmission, is already communal, already intimate, already (if both sides play their parts) interactive. I don't doubt that it will continue—if humanity, with all its current craziness, doesn't wipe itself out. Meantime, I sit here, clocking the new year in, waiting for signs of sanity. And worrying.

If they only sold seats in the flies: Patti LuPone in The Anarchist
Joan Marcus
If they only sold seats in the flies: Patti LuPone in The Anarchist


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