Friday, February 22, 2008

DeLillo on the down-low

In her review of Don DeLillo's Love-Lies-Bleeding, the Boston Globe's Louise Kennedy makes the following rather oblique statement:

On the smaller of two stages at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, a young fringe company is presenting the regional premiere of Don DeLillo's "Love-Lies-Bleeding" . . . This is a strange commentary on the state of our large local theater companies, if you consider that two earlier DeLillo plays were commissioned and premiered by the American Repertory Theatre.

A "strange commentary," indeed. One wonders why Kennedy can't simply say aloud what I've been saying for some time: Boston's major theatres are failing to bring us the news from our playwrights. The A.R.T. continues to pretend that directors are more important than writers, while the Huntington has become focused on developing talents in-house - which means, unfortunately, that said talents are often genuine but minor. Meanwhile, we've had to turn to the Lyric Stage to see Albee's The Goat, Boston Theatreworks to see Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, Zeitgeist Stage to see The Kentucky Cycle, and Company One to see Mr. Marmalade. I know I'm the meme engine around here, but isn't it time for even the cautious Louise Kennedy and Carolyn Clay to risk pointing out that this situation is precisely backwards? Even though two major academic institutions have standing theatre companies here, we're offered the boldest new theatre essentially below the mainstream radar, on the down-low, as it were. In a way, of course, this situation is a bonanza for small theatres, which can pick from the latest in challenging texts. On the other hand, it's a little frustrating for the rest of us, since our smaller theatres often don't have the resources to fully realize these demanding visions.

Brett Marks, Eliza Lay and W. Kirk Avery in Love-Lies-Bleeding.

And that's the case, I'm afraid, with Love-Lies-Bleeding, a laudable attempt by Way Theatre Artists at bringing off an intriguing, but flawed, experiment from DeLillo. The piece is, on its surface, a contemplation of euthanasia and its moral paradoxes, in which Alex, an aging, once-vital artist "locked in," as the doctors say, by two successive strokes, mutely waits - and perhaps listens - as his stump of an "extended family" circles his helpless body with a life-ending load of morphine.

But DeLillo is not solely interested in concocting some high-end counterpoint to Whose Life Is It Anyway? As usual, he's most concerned with the limits of knowledge, and the meaning of action within those limits. In such epics as Libra, White Noise, and Underworld, the interstices he reveals in American culture hint at conspiracy and unknown threat - in Love-Lies-Bleeding, by way of contrast, the threat circling the "hero" isn't fraught with epistemological doubt, but his actual current state is. So DeLillo proceeds to break his play up into allusive fragments - fragments which often frustrate any through-line reading, and are intended to keep us pondering precisely what we know about this moral dilemma and what we can know.

But the Way Theatre production, under the direction of Greg Maraio, sticks with a naturalistic approach throughout, so the constant narrative dislocations seem like shocks to the play's system rather than a positive structural element. To be fair to Maraio, DeLillo's structure is hardly a triumph - he slides uneasily out of philosophical speculation and into somewhat-wooden melodrama, so Maraio's approach is at least half-right. Still, some sense of alienated distance from the appearance of what's going on is clearly called for, but never delivered (or even attempted).

Despite these failings, there are at least two performances to savor here. Eliza Lay, though not as commanding as she was in The Eight, is still generally convincing as the wife of the stricken Alex, and delivers a moving, if conflicted, eulogy near the play's end. Jeff Gill, however, is the stand-out as the maverick artist (played poignantly in extremis by W. Kirk Avery), conveying an appealing energy in the character's younger days as well as a thoughtful, utterly unsentimental evocation of his travails after his first stroke. What's more, Gill alone seems to understand DeLillo's buried themes. Whether he's pondering hollowing out a cavern in a mountain to hold his art (a rather obvious metaphor for his own later state), or simply speculating on the identity of a remembered face, Gill poignantly illuminates the doubt that permeates the play. After all, perhaps Alex really has disintegrated within his skull (Gill's final moments hint that may be the case). Perhaps the family has hastened his death - but then again perhaps they haven't (questions of human efficacy haunt DeLillo). Perhaps Alex's art-filled cavern would mean immortality - but perhaps it would mean absurdity. And perhaps the Way Theatre production misses this piercing edge of ambiguity, but there's no doubt they should be applauded for staging Don DeLillo's latest.


  1. All good points...

    Could I humbly suggest you are giving Delillo's script a complexity that he appears to deliberately avoid.

    Rather than "locked in" (as in Diving Bell and the Butterfly,) I feel that in the text and in the production Delillo wants to take away the possibility that Alex may be alive in there. He gives him, instead, the diagnosis of persistent vegetative state.

    Although, I will agree, some of Delillo's metaphors suggest otherwise: Is the man on the subway really dead? Should the man made room in the mountain have vibrant paintings or just cold walls?

    But Delillo is a smart artist and knows that the questions could override everything and really topple his whole construction. However, he seems to have outhunk himself here.

    The real game he is hunting, as you observe, is identity. When do we start to sum up a human life?

    Nobody truly knows Alex; not his wives, not his son...not he? The eulogies appropriately seem to be inadequate. We haven't seen much of Alex, but we have seen enough to know that he is a cipher. The need of these people, even eventually Lia, to define him, seem to be giving an urgency to their ending his life.

    Delillo has mentioned that he wanted to keep the larger society out of the play. But then, it would appear, Delillo doesn't know what do without it.

    To be fair, the play you describe is the play I wish Delillo wrote as well. And at the beginning, I thought it was going to be. (I had the same thought about the short scenes.) But it wasn't and it isn't. (My opinion.) All those themes are there: in the metaphors, in the endless descriptions people give of themselves and others. But they aren't dramatically formed enough. It feels like a play by a major talent... written on commission.

  2. Another question.

    Please define "resources" a little more.

    Do you really think that one of the regional houses would have provided that much different a production of The Goat? Better or worse?

    While I agree that as of late Boston doesn't seem to be snagging World Premieres of major dramatists or authors. (We'll just forget about 2 Lives.)

    I am not sure second productions are suffering all that much by appearing at the midsized or smaller houses.

  3. Hi Art, and thanks for your comments. I'm sorry if I seemed to overpraise DeLillo's play, but didn't I describe it as "intriguing but flawed" and didn't I mention that "DeLillo's structure is hardly a triumph - he slides uneasily out of philosophical speculation and into somewhat-wooden melodrama"? As for "locked in" vs. "persistent vegetative state" - you're quite right that they're different diagnoses, and that the characters state Alex is in the second, not the first. But DeLillo also hints that Alex is, indeed, responsive, and it's mentioned (I think more than once) that he can probably hear what's going on. And, as you point out, much of what's "dramatic" about the situation simply drains away if Alex is, indeed, not "locked in" at some level.

    At any rate, the point I was trying to make in the review was that the style of the Way Theatre production was inappropriate to the play, so it's a little hard to guess at its artistic success. I wish I had a simple solution for director Greg Maraio, but I don't, other than to suggest that a certain distanced acting style, and perhaps a more abstracted set, was what was called for.

    As for the small theatres taking on big challenges - as I hope I made clear, I support this. But at the same time, yes, I think the larger houses could have done most of those plays better. Paula Plum was terrific in The Goat, for instance, but her male lead was much less good. Zeitgeist Stage's success at mounting The Kentucky Cycle at all somewhat obscured an inevitably thin physical production. Homebody/Kabul featured a strong lead but an uneven ensemble.

    And then there's the simple fact of the size of the audience involved. Fewer people have seen these shows, to be blunt, than would have seen them at the Huntington or the A.R.T. They've had less of an impact, and yet they've now been "done" in Boston (of course very occasionally, as with Copenhagen, one of the big houses picks up the script anyway). This isn't something any small theatre company wants to hear, I understand, but it is worth pondering nonetheless. Of course the downside is that then small theatres have less challenging scripts to choose from, I know. They're quite happy if the A.R.T. noodles around with Wings of Desire or the Dresden Dolls, while the Huntington mounts Brendan. Perhaps, indeed, Boston actors are better served by the current arrangement! Sigh. Oh well, perhaps we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. But I have to say I'd rather see one of the big houses do August: Osage County or The Coast of Utopia, but I might end up seeing them in the basement of the Piano Factory!

  4. You know, let me add something to my earlier comment: let's not pretend that there aren't loads of challenging scripts out there. The A.R.T. and the Huntington - and even the New Rep, the Lyric, and SpeakEasy - have ignored a huge amount of work that should by now have been done professionally in Boston. We still haven't seen Albee's latest, or Caryl Churchill's, or anything, really, from Howard Barker. Plays from such lesser lights as Adam Rapp still haven't been produced in Boston. Perhaps what I'm really arguing for is more commitment to the actual writing of our time from the university theatres that are supposed to be bearing some kind of intellectual standard. Trust me, if each of them simply committed to producing ONE GODDAMN PLAY a year by one of our greatest living playwrights, there would still be plenty of gravy left over for the small theatres.

  5. Oh Tom, I’m not sure how your mantra of I’m the best and so everybody should worship here is working, but I have to say I do like your critiques. Albeit, they do have a snobbish air, the same air that makes the distinction between performance for the cultural elite and “oh no, here comes the unwashed - who invited them?.”

    I only became aware of your good self after you demolished Sugan Theatre with your polished Synge review. And in hindsight, it is quite possible that the review was the final rub in Sugan’s illustrious career. It may not have finished them off but it did bang a nail in their coffin. And no matter how well you pride yourself on your honesty I have to say a little compromise doesn’t hurt, particularly when your published word can do so much damage.

    Having read your reviews consistently over the years I learn a lot from them and a lot about you. I prefer to keep learning more about the play than you but so be it. I find you frequently start by knocking a play so you can then comfortably heap your scorn from your height, although your scorn is parsed out in a way that the writer oft times wonders when this became a bloodsport. I know you have been at the end of the battering stick recently by the local press and I would have had more respect if you didn’t get so indignant. But the point is, again, this bloodletting occurs when it is treated as such.

    As to my own indignancy regarding your abuse of my little ‘minor’ delicacies on the boards in Boston I would like to make two claims that certainly explain their success. Apart from the fact that the shows were good - one, Brendan was based in Boston and how often do the shows we see on the stages here take place in this town? Rarely. So when people walked into the theatre they said “oh, this has something to do with us, what a pleasant change”. And two, when those letters were read throughout Brendan, and although they were considered “anachronistic” by your friend and mine Karl Marx, they were proudly anachronistic and judging from the word from the "unwashed" that went to the show it reminded them what their immigrant parents, grandparents , great grandparents had as their only contact with their orginal home. A fact that is easily forgotten today when this country is thinking of building a wall to stop them from entering. And how many stages are dealing with that issue?

    The play sold out, made its money back and on the last week sold $50,000 in single ticket sales. It may be crass to mention, but that’s impressive for the invalid. And you think that was because the reviews (Excluding yours and Karls) were good from five weeks previous. They helped no doubt, but it was because word of mouth spread and said you should see this show. It doesn’t speak down to us. It has a happy ending. It doesn’t drag. It has great production values. Great performances. It's new. It’s set in our town by a local playwright. And sometimes that's all that is necessary for the moment.

    As to your bitching about Don DeLillo not having a bigger stage maybe it’s because his play found the stage it deserves. And I mean that with respect. That a fringe company should have the pleasure of putting it on, making their name more visible and giving local actors a great opportunity. But would you have us put on the name just because, and if the big houses should do that because of his name where would a young vibrant company like Way Theatre be?

    In theatre I find there is a lot of bitching. In fact you just get sick of the bitching after a while but please - if the big house put on the play then would you see Jeff Gill in it? Honestly. And knowing your critiques how can you guarantee a big house would do a better job. So here is an opportunity to shine and you’re still not satisfied.

    A playwright, no matter who they are, is just pleased if they are getting productions and all the plays you mention are worthy and get productions because they are good. And when the ART decides to return to what you want, maybe they will do a Don DeLillo on the main stage and maybe the Huntington, God help them, will keep helping “minor” playwrights to develop or maybe they will develop lots of New York playwrights instead, and maybe when they have finally found the New Great One, which we will know, because you will tell us, then maybe their whole exercise in developing local playwrights and local plays will stop because everything they have done will have paid off. Is that the wish?

    As a final point, Theresa Rebeck is probably one of the most produced playwrights in the country and yet the critique she receives can be horrendous, but you know why theaters put her work on - it is because people enjoy her work - they like to have a "hoot'. And although it isn't Sophocles or Barker, which she doesn't claim it to be, it puts people in the theatre, isn't that what we're trying to do here. I know Streamers didn't do well - it is a good play but people didn't come - but who do you condemn now - the people or the play - obviously you had no problem with the play so you must have a problem with the people -

    If every theatre put on the theatre critics wish list they wouldn't survive and critics know that, but when a theatre puts on a play that they dislike and the people come, well the critic should recognize that there is an aberration in their critique and document that too. Maybe you will.

    Ronan Noone

  6. Ronan, I'm sorry I didn't like Brendan more - but "bloodsport"? Get real. Here's the heart of what I wrote about your play:

    Of course what "Brendan" has going for it is that it pleases the audience rather than challenges it. Who can't root for Brendan, the shy-but-lovable Irish boy with a wee drinkin' problem (and who hasn't tipped a few too many, Paddy?) and a wee bit of girl trouble too (and who hasn't paid for it, Seamus?), who only longs to be a Real American (and what refugee wouldn't want that, Mr. Cheney?). Well, I suppose I can root for him if I have to, but really, it would be easier if Noone actually followed through on the deeper questions his shy young slip of a play raises. The playwright maintains a smart, satiric tone in half his script - the half which follows Brendan as he romances the girl downstairs while learning to drive (his teacher is his only real friend, the "working girl" he lost his virginity to) in an effort to both hang onto his job and his bid for citizenship. At his finish, Noone goes all sappy on the Land of the (Formerly) Free, but till then his take on what it means to be an American (i.e., a girlfriend and a car) is bracingly clear-eyed. And if we can practically write the ensuing plot for ourselves (it's only a matter of time before the working-girl and the girl-next-door cross paths), its predictability is largely offset by dialogue so taut you could practically bounce a quarter off it.

    Alas, it's in the "other half" of Brendan that Noone falters: his hero's mother has just died - with the withholding of said news operating as her final, strange revenge on him; not to worry, though - like some Gaelic castmember of thartysomething, Ma's ghost pops up on stage, and in her son's subconscious, to henpeck him into achieving his goals. So far, so cute, I suppose - only Noone clearly doesn't know what to do with Ma once he's conjured her, so local star Nancy E. Carroll is left pitching wry punch lines and little else . . .

    Sure, the tone is skeptical, but I give you plenty of compliments - and what I want to know is, HAVE YOU WORKED ON YOUR PLAY? Have you further developed Brendan's relationship with his mother? Have you toned down the flag-waving at the finish - or better still, developed a way for Brendan to see through the superficiality of his "American dream"? If not, then pipe down till you have.

    Because I don't care if your play sold tickets (guess what, Mamma Mia sold more) - it's still flawed, and it's my job to point that out. I'm sure that's hard to hear, but you may be better off listening to your critics than insulting them. I mean seriously - have I ever offered any comments about your personality, even though yes, I have my own ideas about it? Not yet, at any rate - but right now I'm sorely tempted. As for some two-year-old review of the Sugan, or that pathetic piece of payback from the Globe, again, what has that got to do with you, or Brendan, or Don DeLillo, or the price of tea in China?

    I'll close by simply pointing out the irony of your position. I assume that you, like most playwrights, want to improve your craft. You want to write bigger, more challenging, more insightful pieces - something to match the best of Albee or Churchill, say. But ponder this, Mr. Noone - if you ever do so, as things stand now, your current producers may well drop you like a hot brick. And you'll find yourself being produced by Way Theatre or Zeitgeist Stage. Now for my part, if you ever do produce a brilliant, sprawling epic, I'm all for seeing it up at the Huntington or the A.R.T. But if you prefer the black box at the B.C.A., well I suppose that's your business . . .

  7. Actually, I'll go on a little further about Brendan, Mr. Noone. You want to make it a better play? Really resolve the issues between Brendan and his mother - or DON'T resolve the issues but make them explicit, so we can understand why Brendan is still running away, across America if need be. But you can't have it both ways. A great play doesn't leave hanging huge issues like, did the lead attempt suicide or not, and was it because of his mother, or not? I mean please. What's a good ghost for if not to reveal the past? As for The Atheist - you want to make Augustine interesting over two acts rather than just one? Then give him a real antagonist, instead of a half-baked one, in Act II. Give him some possible shot at real redemption with Mrs. Wallace. Then you'll have a full-length play instead of a well-disguised feint at a full-length play.

  8. Thom,

    Back to the theatre scene.

    I understand your reasoning, but I just can't agree.

    The system you are proposing is the system that has been driving new voices too far to the fringe to have an impact. Your own examples, in a way, demonstrate the chicken/egg element: Remember, Adam Rapp was made important BY his PREMIERES at the ART. Now, you wish you saw more of his SECOND productions there?

    I find it a refreshing change, the idea of seeing new voices reach larger audiences.

    I wouldn't discount the part of Mr. Noone's argument about building a following, building an audience for new voices.

    (Of course, I am a playwright as well, so we may be in a genuine George Lakoff conundrum here.)

    As you say though, better work should be the ultimate goal of us all. I was enthralled by Nocturne, but Rapp's Animals and Plants, and Stone Cold Dead Serious led me almost to madness, (I confess to now sharing one new york critic's point of view that he will start seeing Rapp again once theatres stop producing his first drafts.)

    However, just as you rightly point out that ticket sales don't equate to quality, I would point out that neither does budget or production values.

    Remember that the Lead Actor of the Goat, (which I think was a late replacement,) was a bona-fide New York Actor who had played the role in the New York production. He was just the type of person who would have been cast by a larger house.

    By the way, I do know that you have always been an advocate for local talent versus the fly-by lead, so I don't mean to suggest otherwise. However, Mr. Noone is right to point out that you would have been deprived of Mr. Gill's performance.

    The Lyric has great local actresses lined up for Albee's Three Tall Women. Is it sad that more people won't see it than if it were shown to larger subscriber base at the Huntington? Well, it is sad that more people won't see it, but if it is good then the critics should at least try to point that out to the public, no?

    As both you and Mr. Noone suggest, the theatre community is a complex organism. There are benefits to be had by all. Also negatives to suffer.

    I don't think we are in any type of Golden Age. Sadly, many new companies that are starting up are choosing to do Neil Labute, Kenneth Lonergan, Brian Friel, etc. Rather than new playwrights or original work.

    William Donnelly, a local playwright who produced himself for many years,(as I did,) has been absent the scene for a while. He is now receiving a full regional production this Portland Stage Company.

    Whistler, Gurnet, Way, AYTB, and others are very strong companies, but they are replacing companies like Donnelly's, The Bridge, Rough and Tumble, etc. (I'll include my old company, Essayons in that mix.) While Another Country and Brian Tuttle's 11:11 continue the new work mantle, (Centastage seems to be back in the mix too,) it appears that many new companies are providing stellar acting directing and management, But are, for the most part, doing established works by known talents.

    And the larger companies like the Huntington, New Rep, Merrimack, are moving towards world premieres by newer talent.

    So, to that extent, I see your point: Once the hip, young talent becomes the maturing, mid thirties, early forties talent who will do their work if the smaller, fringe companies are doing standards or epics?

    As for Louise Kennedy's statements, which started this whole discussion. I read them much different from you.

    I read them as the words of a theatre critic fearing the complexity of more dynamic theatre scene.

    She seemed to be impressed with the production. Way more so than you, but I respect your contextual comments more because you are more germaine to your criticicism. Her comments seemed at a right angle to her experience.

    Yes, she liked the production. However, this presents problems. Can the lead critic ignore the Boston Premiere of the new Delillo? Not really, especially not if there is hot talent involved. But what if it is taking place at the Piano Factory? There was an unintentional backhandedness to the comment.

    Combine Kennedy's opening comments of the LLB review with her admission that she was nervous upon hearing that BTW was going to take on Angels in America, (several other critics said this as well,) and you get a chilling air.

    While Homebody was not a perfect production, (what is?) It was a powerful, and professional staging of that work. In fact, though sometimes I like BTW productions, and sometimes I don't, I have to admit, I never entertained the thought that they would utterly fail in presenting Kushner's epic.

    I think the iconic Broadway production of Kushner's play has obscured the fact that the play was originally produced on much smaller stages like the Eureka and the Mark Taper Forum.

    The power of the critic is smaller than people give credit, I know. You don't have to read many memoirs or collections of people like Kerr, Rich, Brustein, or Tynan to see that they all have instances where they really tried to get audiences to see a show they thought exceptional. In some cases going beyond just the the notice or daily review, they would write follow-up think pieces, mention the show in other reviews...only to see the show close because of 1/4 capacity houses.

    But part of the job of the critic is to illuminate beauty whether it is in a garage or at the Met.

    Your opinion at least can start a discussion, whether Mr. Noone and I agree with you or not.

    Ms. Kennedy's comments, I think are a bit more dangerous: There is great work going on by this smaller theatre company, I really enjoyed the production, but really we should be seeing it somewhere else?!!!

    That is something I just can't get down with.

  9. Art, you seem to be seeing this as an "either/or" proposition - and I also think that yes, you're being somewhat influenced by your own position in the small theatre scene. If you just take a step back, and really ponder what you're proposing, you'll see that we are spending literally millions of dollars in cultural resources on minor new playwrights, while ignoring our established, great playwrights, or offering them only low-budget productions which will be seen at best by a few dozen people. Of course small companies often come through with good productions, and large companies often wind up with weak ones, but still - as policy, this is crazy. And no, I'm not advocating pushing new playwrights out onto the fringe - nor am I advocating that the Huntington and the A.R.T. shouldn't develop new voices in-house. I'm simply pointing out that the great voices of our day deserve a larger place - or in some cases A PLACE AT ALL - at our cultural table. Even if our major theatres committed to one challenging new work from our great living authors, it would make a huge difference around here. And don't think aspiring playwrights wouldn't benefit from that.

  10. Ok Tom, I appreciate your dramaturgical comments. And I appreciate your restraint from attacking me.

    So I have a few rambling thoughts and questions for debate on the posistion of these Major playwrights who are alive that we are not producing in big houses - David Rabe, Michael Frayn, Conor McPherson, Does Sarah Ruhl count in New Rep?. How major are these guys in the major scale?

    What if Albee actually refused permission to a production in a big house, is that a valid question, and how does that effect the state of play? Would it be okay then to take the money we were going to put into that production and rise a couple or three minor new plays instead, or do we go to the next major playwright and see if they will give permission?

    I mean these millions you mention how are they wasted. Is it on the administrations of the big houses, should we fire some of them, as Mike Daisy thinks, so we can hire more actors.

    I mean the more I think about this the more paradoxical theatre becomes.

    Theatre is always sick and still it survives

    There is no money in theatre but the endowments they have are big.

    Nobody goes to the theatre but the Subscriber base increased this year

    Theatre is about Art it's not about Money but we need your money to put up the art and then it's about quality regardless of money, although nobody came, not because it wasn't any good, but because we can't get people in the theatre.

    Tickets are too expensive although the house was full tonight

    Theatre gives us the same revivals but we want something new but we still want to keep our older subscribers even though they've seen the revivals before.

    I think I could go on but I'm afraid I might lose all hope, except for the fact that they have put "millions" into new plays and local playwrights who in this town have made their money back. Which in my mind might be a minor trump card if we want to maintain an active audience.

    I mean picking on the development of plays as a detriment to producing Major Playwrights seems counter productive, rather we should lobby theatres in a democratic way instead of leaving everything to an Artistic Director, would that be more in fashion?

    As a final question, and not meaning to be derogatory, rather forgetful, but what major challenging work has a major playwright given us recently, which still begs the question if small theatres are putting up major writers and only a couple of dozen are going to see it - well how major is the playwright - and again I don't mean that in a derogatory way, I know it becomes a question of quality , but still if there is something important that I should see then I don't care who is doing it I will see it and I suspect so will everybody else who loves theatre.

  11. You know, Ronan, if you want me to offer a precise plan for how to integrate new plays by great living authors with newly-developed plays as well as interesting new productions of the classics, well, cough up a few million and we'll start our own theatre company. If you want someone to lobby for more works by our greatest living authors - well, I think that's what I'm doing. As for who should be on that list? Well, a short list might include Albee - we haven't seen his last two plays - or Churchill (we haven't seen her last masterpiece, "Mad Forest," which is what, almost fifteen years old?) - or maybe Arthur Miller (there's a backlog of four or five plays there), or, yes, Howard Barker (never done at all by a major company in Boston), or maybe even Edward Bond (!) - there are even some plays by Tony Kushner that have never seen the light of day in Boston. And you seem to be insinuating that I am trying to oppose plays by established authors vs. new, "developed" plays - but I'm not. Both can and should exist on Boston stages. But all we're getting now are new, "developed" plays; indeed, already there's a slight sense of monotony in the Boston scene as a result. I don't have an overarching strategy, I don't have a plan, but I know enough to try to nudge the established players away from this extreme position. It may be defensible, it may lead to plays that pay for themselves, but in the meantime Boston is missing what our greatest authors are saying.

  12. Hey Thomas,

    I'm not sure, at this point, how much you, me, ronan or anybody reading this wants to or really can contribute anymore to this discussion.

    But I am curious, you still haven't answered one of my first questions. Defining Resources. Perhaps it might help me if you would define what you consider a major company.

    Since you have hinted earlier, I would assume you don't consider The Lyric major, right? What about New Rep? Speakeasy?

    All I am saying is that if you are going to consider only the Huntington and the ART as major companies then your big-enough-tent-for-all argument starts to fade for me. If only productions at the Huntington and the ART serve as sufficient productions, (somehow soley based on their budget,) then your argument could continue forever and ever. Even if the Lyric of the New Rep did a complete season of the latest from Sam Shepard, Albee, Churchill, Rabe and Norman, would you suggest that they still haven't been done in Boston?

  13. Art, for the last time, I am not saying that ONLY the A.R.T. and the Huntington should do the recent plays by our leading playwrights. Nor am I saying that they should ONLY do the recent plays by our leading playwrights. I want them to do SOME of the recent plays by our leading playwrights. Is that so strange? And yes, they are the major theatres in this burg. The Lyric, the New Rep, and Speakeasy are the next tier, with many resources, but not AS MANY resources. And just btw, you seem to think that actors are the only resource I'm talking about. But I'm not sure there's a local DIRECTOR who's really right for that DeLillo piece. And when was the last time you heard of the Lyric or the New Rep flying in a director a designer for a show? While I'm on the soapbox, I'd also like to point out that we've seen very little from the greatest directors of the day, either. New York got Bergman regularly, but we never did, and of course now it's too late. We've never seen anything by Canada's Robin Phillips. Would it be possible to lure Vivian Matalon to the Huntington or the A.R.T. from New York? This is just the start of a very long list.

  14. There seems to exist a presumption that the size of a theatre company dictates the quality of its productions, so smaller (a/k/a "fringe") companies naturally mount lesser quality shows. And after reading some of the reviews and coverage of our production, I almost felt guilty for choosing to produce the play(almost:) as if we denied hundreds of people the right to see it due to our small venue, non-equity status, limited budget, and short run. But we listed it in all the major publications and still only had about 50% capacity over the run, so if people wanted to see it, they was room. If they chose not to because the company is small and relatively unknown, that's their right. But then, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I think we may be underestimating our audiences and their capacity to expand their theatrical horizons.

    Julie Ohl
    Dramaturg, Producing Artistic Director - Way Theatre Artists

  15. Hi Julie, and thanks for commenting. And thanks for producing "Love-Lies-Bleeding." My comments were not a criticism of Way Theatre for doing the play - don't be silly; I admire you for doing the play. My comments were a criticism of the larger companies around here, who should be taking more genuine risks, and "experimenting" via the playwright, rather than despite him or her. But don't worry; they're not about to take my advice, and the most interesting new scripts will continue to be available to Boston's smaller companies.

  16. This debate segues into the larger debate that is currently vibrating around the failure of regional theatres.

    The misnomer here is “fringe” theatre. The fringe once described a species of art that was explored outside the constraints and ambitions of the mainstream. The fringe artists and their audience were small in number because their exploration was so specialized.

    The fringe during the last decade or so has become synonymous with small or under produced. And “fringe festivals” have become largely venues for artists to showcase their work in order to catapult themselves into the mainstream. For instance “Urinetown,” originally a fringe festival production, never had any ambitions other than finding its Broadway audience.

    I can’t speak to the ambitions of artists of Way Theatre but are they seeking and serving an audience significantly different than the audience at A.R.T. or the Huntington? And by extension, is the Huntington seeking and serving a regional audience significantly different than Broadway?

    The Huntington Theatre’s PR explains well its ambition and the nature of audience it seeks and serves, “The Huntington has received three Tony Award nominations for productions transferred to Broadway.” This ambition is of course counter to the notion that the regional theatre should be seeking and serving a particular local theatre community and specialized to Boston artists and audience.

  17. I think the definition of fringe can be so subjective. When I first learned about the fringe festivals, I thought fringe theatres were by default the channels that carried those productions to the rest of the world. Then living in Boston, I saw the label was used for small theatre companies, a lot.

    Our company doesn't do "fringe" plays per se but we do exist on the fringe of the larger organizations, as was the point in an earlier post. So I started to see it more as a label for the nature of our existence. On the edge of existing, teetering, taking it one production at a time, dependent on more short-term financial sources, on affordability and availability of rented theatre space, rehearsal space, and non-exclusive rights that could be taken away before opening.

    Some of you probably know this but it was a rude awakening for me that, because a company such as ours is deemed "non-professional" by Dramatists Play Service (since we can't pay our actors more than a modest one-time stipend), this means the rights are reserved but can be withdrawn. Of course a theatre company can simply check off "professional" and not give a hoot how Dramatists defines it (it's specified if anyone seeking rights just clicks to find out). I'd like to think people operate under the rules of the royalties, as we do, in the interest of equity, but I wasn't born yesterday either :)

    In any case it does take the wind out of the sails of the argument that small theatres have the same picking rights as larger houses. They don't, when the reality is that their rights are conditional on a larger house not wanting to make a last minute addition of a hot play. Fortunately, Boston theatre doesn't seem to be a place where that could happen, the rights being swiped away before a Sept. opening night, say, because a larger house decided to replace their spring show with a different play (last minute changes do happen). But it is a risk that is there for the small companies. I'm not pleased that they define "professional" that way but oh well.

    Fortunately, in Boston at least, the relationships between theatre companies in my humble experience is more cooperative, not antagonistic at all. I receive queries from playwrights referred to us from larger houses, for whatever reasons (usually new plays by unagented non-local playwrights), and I've refer playwrights to other companies whose material may be a better match to another mission.

    I wanted to add as far as the Huntington, I interned in dramaturgy there last season and know that the workload stemming from its policy of accepting, reading and responding to unsolicited, unagented scripts from local (MA and RI) writers is no small task. It is a testament to its goal of fostering the local playwright.

    Way Theatre Artists