I love the brilliant Slings and Arrows as much as the next theater geek, and am glad to see it promoted anytime. But did the Times's Susan Stewart just get the DVD sets for her birthday, or what? I can't for the life of me figure out the timing of her Friday essay on the show.
In the episode I just saw, Chris, the radio dj loses his voice when a
beautiful woman stops by the station to ask for directions. His voice was taken by beauty. Sounds like a Sarah Ruhl play, no? He eventually gets his voice back after Maggie, the most beautiful woman in town kisses him…One of my favorite parts is Joel's increasing jealousy about Maggie who the town thinks is having sex with Chris to give him his voice back. The entire town waits outside her cabin to see if he will emerge with
And gosh, that does sound kind of like a Sarah Ruhl play. I was asked not long ago if I could explain my general distaste for Ruhl's style, of which I've made no secret. I blathered a bit about her affinity for wordplay that, in my opinion, serves to "sound pretty" more than it serves her plots, and about her reliance on visual symbols that I don't find, ultimately, to say anything (i.e. the paper houses in Dead Man's Cell Phone or those damn fish in Passion Play).
Then I referenced something Ruhl said in this interview with TOC last fall just before Passion Play's opening at the Goodman that's been bothering me ever since:
You’re part of a wave of
playwrights interested in the whimsical—less naturalism than
surrealism. What do you make of that trend?
I think people are bored of watching watered-down television onstage. I think playwrights are responding to that.
What do you mean by “watered-down television”?
I mean is family dramas that take place in a house with furniture, and
there’s an issue at the center of it and a secret that is ultimately
But couldn’t one say that this
whimsy-playwriting—with its quick scene cuts, interior fantasy
sequences, breezy dialogue—is influenced more by TV trends than by
I don’t really watch TV, so I don’t
know. But I do think we live in a cinematic culture, so the concept
that you might achieve more by juxtaposition of images than by linear
progression through time—I think that’s definitely part of being in the
It's been nagging at me for some time, but I think what rankled me about that statement is that TV has actually been doing what Ruhl does for some time now. Whether it's the current critical hit Pushing Daisies, the mobsters-in-therapy and talking fish on The Sopranos, or the dancing babies of Ally McBeal a decade ago, popular television has been mining this whimsical vein for quite a while. Northern Exposure hadn't entered into this equation for me until Szymkowicz suggested it, but he's quite right about it. (There's also, for me, the fact that when so many non-MacArthur-grant-recipient playwrights are making their real livings on TV shows and the majority of cultural critics have come around to taking television seriously, the whole "Oh I don't watch TV" business seems elitist and out of touch, but we'll leave that aside for now.)
The question becomes: why am I okay with all of this whimsy on TV, where Pushing Daisies, The Sopranos, Ally McBeal and Northern Exposure are all series I enjoy to varying degrees, while it rubs me the wrong way when I see Ruhl and Noah Haidle and their spiritual kin putting it on stage? Is there something about stage vs. screen that makes a difference (because, let's be honest, I also love me some Amelie)? Or do I have a less critical eye toward the formats I don't write about on a regular basis?
To broaden the question: Are there things you dig in TV and film (or in books, visual art, whatever) that bug you in theater? Or vice versa?
Tired of watching all those reruns on TV? Turn off the tube, brave the winter weather, and experience live theatre instead – it's new every night !
During the month of February, League of Chicago Theatres' members will offer patrons special ticket promotions as part of the "No More Reruns" campaign. Check for weekly offers from various theatres every Tuesday in Chicagoplays EXTRA .
And it went on to list ticket discount promos from several theaters. Clever, right? Though the fact that it took this long to capitalize on the WGA strike, just as it appears to be ending, takes a bit of wind out of the sails. (Of course a promotion like this would have been a harder sell in, say, December, when there's nothing playing but Christmas shows.)
But even if the strike is ending, it's going to take time for scripted shows to get back into production, and many will choose not to come back with new episodes until next season. We're stuck with reruns (and craptastic reality shows and game shows) for quite a while longer. The more important point is, if the only people seeing the League's promotion are those who already are signed up for its newsletter or visiting its website, the campaign's effectiveness is practically nil. Here's where those bus shelter ads the League used to run could really be put to good use.
Just watched Ugly Betty's Wicked episode. I love me some Ugly Betty. I love Justin and his showtune club, and I love tonight's episode for presenting going to theater as something that normal people do. (See, I don't hate Wicked! Really! And I also love Ugly Betty for casting Marlo Thomas as a cougar. And Henry, who I've loved since he was Harrison on Popular.)
But I'm also peeved with Betty for setting a bad example of awful audience behavior. Betty and Henry spent most of Wicked in the audience texting to each other, not to mention the whispered, non-show-related conversation among Betty, Gio and Daniel.
It just so happens that I spent some time today on, um, the Broadway-fan message board All That Chat—I swear to GOD it was work-related, I was curious about what the commenters were saying about the first few previews of August: Osage County (and so far the feedback is incredibly positive), and the experience of going on the boards did prompt me to turn to Christopher and say "Internet message boards may be the worst thing that has ever happened to humanity"—point being, I found this thread today, which is entitled "I consider texting/emailing during plays to be the new scourge..."
Last night I attended a performance of Eduardo Machado's Chicago premiere of The Cook at the Goodman (review to come next week) with my friend Neal. At the open of the show, we heard the now-requisite chuckles at the preshow announcement to turn off cell phones and unwrap candies and cough drops. At intermission, we lamented the fact that, despite the chuckling, we heard an hour's worth of unwrapping cellophane and two ringing phones in the first act.
So thanks, Betty, for encouraging this kind of obliviousness to continue. I'll keep watching (after all, tonight's ending was frickin' heartbreaking), but consider yourself On Notice.
(Also, I left the TV on while writing this post, which means I saw my first-ever episode of Grey's Anatomy. Man, Grey's, you are a dumb show. But I still love you, Sara Ramirez.)