Saturday, June 24, 2006

Theater That I Need To See

The theater that most changed me by drawing me into experience more vivid in some ways than the rest of life was in Cambridge, MA, and Providence, R.I., during my twenties. While a graduate student in philosophy at Boston College, I had (student discounted) season tickets to The American Repertory Theater, under the artistic direction of Robert Brustein, in Cambridge, and to The Trinity Repertory Theater, under the direction of Adrian Hall, in Providence.

I needed to see this theater. I needed to sit in the same seat I had for several seasons in a row, and to discuss the plays during intermission with the same gaggle of suburban ladies who had the seats next to me. I needed the adrenaline buzz of intelligence and passion shared by these companies of actors with their audiences. Andrei Serban directed the Three Sisters. Joanne Akalitis (forgive my atrocious spelling of these names, it's a weakness of mine) directed End Game, much to Beckett's dismay (he sued ART over the production.) I saw Philip Glass and Robert Wilson operas. Week to week, I couldn't wait either to ride my bicycle over to Cambridge or drive down to Providence. These theaters were as important to me as anything I was reading in grad school, as important as love affairs, as satisfying as travelling in Europe and the mid east.

Later, in my thirties, I saw some theater in New York that made it's mark on me, but not in the same way as ART and Trinity Rep did in my impressionable twenties. Today--in my forties--I usually run to New York to get glimpses of that experience of NEEDING to go to theater, and occasionally I do; e.g., last year, THE PILLOWMAN knocked me out; the year before, ASSASSINS shook me out of my prejudice about musical theater, and I AM MY OWN WIFE revealed to me again the usually-unfulfilled potential of one man shows (I saw Spalding Grey in Cambridge in the early 1980s, when he was just getting going, in a tiny space. That was just pure joy!) But, I want to experience a NEED for theater here, in Portland, my home town.

What can make me need to see theater in Portland, as recently, Keith Scales' performance in FROZEN did? What theater event can so satisfy me that I MUST--not just choose--to come back for more? What qualities must a company reveal?

What is it for you?


Trish Egan & Harold Phillips said...

That's an interesting question. For me, a lot of it is about compelling stories. Yeah, I'm sure the set design is incredible, and the actors are some of the best in town... but if the story the play tells isn't compelling to me, I'm not that driven to go see it.

Good example: By The Bog Of Cats. Had I not already seen this play in London a couple of years ago, I would have been very driven to go see CoHo's production that recently closed here in Portland. The idea of an Irish Medea is, to my mind, a compelling idea that I'd be drawn to.

David Loftus said...

David, did you see "The Knee Plays" project at American Rep -- I think that was the one with the incidental music by David Byrne? I did too. Brustein's outfit only arrived from Yale after I had left school, but I was still in the area.

I'm wondering if the vividness and impact of the theater may have been at least as much a function of your age as the inherent quality of the work on stage? We seem to be most emotionally bound to the music we heard in our teens and twenties, too, whether it was of its time ("Classic Rock") or not (my father's Fats Waller collection in my case, an old girlfriend's father's Benny Goodman in hers).