After a reportedly troubled search that lasted something like a year, the ART finally settled on Diane Paulus (left), a Harvard grad and Obie-award winner, as its choice for Artistic Director. The good news is that the search is over, of course, and that we're now free of Gideon Lester's attempts to replicate past ART seasons. The downside of Diane, however, is that her résumé almost reads like parody. It's thick with pop-music adaptations of Shakespeare (The Donkey Show transported Midsummer Night's Dream to a disco and The Karaoke Show set The Comedy of Errors in a karaoke bar, while The Winter's Tale got a "gospel/R&B" treatment), and includes a pitstop in just about every ditzy directorial trend of the last twenty years: Mozart's Figaro got an update, of fucking course, as well as all three Monteverdi operas (they made it to BAM, naturally), which mixed with the likes of David Lynch (Lost Highway) and even Disney (The Golden Mickeys, whatever that was). Meanwhile her résumé lists no Chekhov, no Ibsen or Shaw, no Sophocles, no Marivaux, no Williams or O'Neill or Miller or Kushner, no Beckett or Brecht or - well, no anybody. Maybe she's done them, but she's certainly not advertising it - when it comes to classic texts, besides the Shakespeare travesties, she only lists Strindberg's phantasmagorical A Dream Play.
Titania goes clubbing in The Donkey Show.
You wonder, in short, if her career might have been devised by some imp at the Harvard Lampoon. It's hard not to get the impression of a very bright, very attractive careerist who read her "mentors" like a book and colored relentlessly within the postmodern lines. And note among all the disco and the Disney that there are few, if any, honest productions of interesting new plays by great playwrights; no, Diane was far too focused to do anything as silly that. That would have required, like, slavish obeisance to a text, dude! It would have blown the whole orgy of signifiers - not to mention the scene!
A scene from Paulus's Brutal Imagination, although it might be from any number of past ART productions.
So it's obvious (if you doubt me, check out the photographs of her work) that her artistic directorship will represent more of the same old, same old from the ART, where the late-70's Village never died (or rather, where it went to die). Indeed, it's hard to imagine how the Harvard search committee could have made a more conservative choice. One guesses the ART will remain mired in yesterday's critical theories, and grow more and more isolated from its community, aside from the Dresden Dolls' fan base, which is probably doing handsprings (along with the Dolls themselves, of course).
Sigh. But will the Huntington do much better? Will Peter DuBois, their incoming artistic director (who arrived after a far more smoothly managed search), actually connect with theatre, and with Boston, the way Harvard seems unable to? Maybe. He's done real plays - Chekhov, Shakespeare, and Beckett, as well as Churchill, Kushner, and others (including, yes, politically-correct lesser talents like Suzan-Lori Parks). DuBois has also, it's good to point out, run a theatre - in Juneau, Alaska, of all places (I'm not making that up), and he's been a mucky-muck at New York's Public, certainly a highly-pressured, high-profile perch. Needless to say, he's also acquainted with the New York (and Hollywood) stars that the Huntington, under Nicholas Martin, began to rely on to boost audience interest in their seasons.
All this, I think, bodes rather well - in case you can't tell, I care far less for postmodern theory and rock-n-roll than I do for theatre. And I'm hoping that DuBois will not only continue the policy of engagement with the city that Nicholas Martin was known for, but will also improve upon it. But what, in the end, should DuBois set as his goals? What should an academic theatre be? In Boston, unlike almost anywhere else in the U.S., we've got two of them, and yet their roles and responsibilities have been a topic of almost no public discussion whatsoever. They are perceived as simply adjuncts of the power bases their respective universities represent; local critics seem to think it's almost rude, somehow, to question the assumptions and goals under which they operate (and under which they gobble down public dollars). But in my next post in this doubleheader, I'll ponder what, exactly, should be expected of an academy that begins to operate as an arts practitioner.