They, Robots


Now that we theater critics have celebrated our holidays in the usual fashion—washing the coal stains from our Christmas stockings, kicking cats, making schoolchildren cry—we can turn our thoughts to the theatrical year to come. What joys will it bring? What bitter disappointments? What triumphs and travesties? In order to ensure there’s a surfeit of the good stuff and only a bit of the bad (there has to be some, of course—awful plays make for the best bon mots), we have compiled a helpful list of suggestions. Producers, artistic directors, props mistresses, actor-managers, and fight captains: Ignore this counsel at your peril.

Please put an end to living-room sets that place the sofa front and center. If we wanted to spend several hours sitting and staring at the couch, we would stop taking our antidepressants.

We like to sing along as much as the next person, though less tunefully. We love the trend toward new musicals that engage meaningfully with contemporary pop, rock, funk, etc. So more Michael Friedman, Stew, and maybe even Duncan Sheik. Less Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg.

More theaters that allow you to bring your drinks in. More free drinks for theater critics at these theaters. Just kidding! Sort of. Sometimes.

The fine actress Juliana Francis said it in these pages last year, but it bears repeating: “More plays with children and animals in them, played by real children and real animals.” The Metropolitan Opera and Radio City Music Hall have their horses, camels, and elephants. Why can’t we? (We might be willing to leave the children offstage.)

More Wedekind!

Even critics like a bit of frisson, so give us more genuinely erotic scenes—straight, gay, polymorphously perverse, what have you—and fewer that make us cringe, squirm, and feel general embarrassment at possessing sex organs ourselves. We do, however, salute the large and jaunty strap-on in the Play Company’s Bad Jazz. Not since junior high has the simple lowering of a fly resulted in such laughter and horror.

More European imports—BAM should not have to bear the burden alone. With the dollar in its current deliquescent state, we can’t afford trips to France, Holland, or Germany to see the next great auteur, so please invite them here. We wouldn’t say no to more regional imports as well.

Better fight scenes with more and better weaponry—samurai swords, nunchakus, table lamps. Fewer slaps choreographed so that you can hear the wind whistle as the hand misses the face by several yards.

Fewer clowns.

The return of the intermission. If your play lasts even a tick longer than an hour and 40 minutes, do give us a break. Everyone likes a chance to stretch one’s legs, powder one’s nose, or, should the show disappoint, tickle one’s throat with a slug from the hip flask. The worst offender this year was the otherwise awesome Krum at BAM, which ran nearly three hours, without respite. Of course, the actors did offer consoling words and apple cake. More apple cake!

Speaking of which, more food generally. Bread and Puppet productions may not always delight, but the communal sharing of bread after the show is a welcome and friendly ritual. And Nature Theater of Oklahoma very much aided the enjoyment of their four-hour No Dice by offering ham-and-cheese and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

More Young Jean Lee. Less Neil LaBute. We prefer our depictions of human cruelty and dumbassedness to have a point.

An increase in theaters in the outer boroughs. Certainly there’s no legislation stipulating that theater can only occur in Manhattan and small swathes of Brooklyn. We have it on good authority that it happens in Long Island City, Hunts Point, even Staten Island. Allow us more forays outside the theater district. And while you’re at it, produce more site-specific theater. We may not have adored Mabou Mines’s Songs for New York, but the Queens harbor setting was incomparable.

Now that Richard Maxwell’s Joe, Les Freres Corbusier’s Heddatron, and Rolin Jones’s The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow have led the way, more robots onstage. More robots in general, actually. Robots in the theater offering drinks and apple cake—those would be the best robots of all.