Thursday, July 20, 2006

Me and Sam

Tonight, The Tall American and I went to see "Fool For Love" a play by Sam Shepard. She is a very big fan of his work and on matters cultural I trust her taste and sensibilities. Earlier on in the year we'd also been to see "The Late Henry Moss", another Shepard play. I am not a very experienced theatre goer and so over the last year or so I have made a conscious effort to go as often as I could as I felt I must be missing out on something. Here's a quick precis of what I have seen, what I thought of it and what it cost me:

Iphigeneia at Aulis - Willfully horrid prosaic language translation robs the play of any poetry or soul. £25
The Philadelphia Story - Utterly unfunny and charmless with terrible accents and no cast interaction. We all left at the second interval. £30
The Late Henry Moss - Didn't really know what to make of it. Suspected it of being Emperor's new clothes. £25
The Producers - Hilarious. £30
The Exonerated - Preachy and strangely uninvolving. £20
Woycek - Icelandic style over substance rendition of German modernist play. Visually and musically very impressive though. £25
Fuerzabruta - Amazing Argentian dance/performance piece. Jaw droppingly good. £25
Fool For Love - The Emperor is indeed naked. It was the same play as "The Late Henry Moss". £25 (but should have been £50)

And I do mean to all intents and purposes identical. They both go like this :

INT: Small grubby room in Deep South. Two siblings face each other. Their dead dad is stage left.

Sibling1 : Everything's screwed up.
Sibling2 : Well it all began to go wrong when you did something a long time ago...It was a dark and stormy night...
Sibling1 : That's not how it happened at all. It was like this...It was a warm spring morning...
Dead Dad : No, none of that's the truth. Here's a rambling but nicely observed anecdote about the past...
Sibling1 : You all done?
Dead Dad : Yup, I'll go back to being dead in the corner.
Sibling2 : Hey Sibling1, everything's still fucked, I'm angry and it's your fault.
Sibling1 : Fuck you! It's all your fault and maybe dad's too.
Sibling2 : How can you say that? And what of mother?


Inoffensive Friendly Character : Hello, I'm the inoffensive friendly character who's nice to people and doesn't shout.
Sibling1 : I hate you and I shall now hit you, though we've only just met and you've done nothing.


Inoffensive Friendly Character : Oww. What did you do that for? I shall go and provide very mild comic relief and sit meekly in the corner to show how angry you two are in comparison to me.
Sibling1 : Shut the fuck up.
Sibling2 : Don't talk to him like that. I shall hit you now.


Sibling1 : Oww. Everything's still fucked up isn't it?
SIbling2 : Yes and we can't agree on the past, the present or about dad.
Sibling1 : But what about mother?
Sibling2 : Mother killed herself.
Sibling1 : Hey that's right? Jeez since we're talking about our dead dad and all I thought maybe we'd have remembered that earlier in the narrative? Guess not.
Inoffensive Friendly Character : I'm scared. I shall run away.
Sibling1 : No you won't I shall hit you again and then bar the door in a very macho manner to emphasise my masculinity.


Sibling2 : Oh God, dad's still dead.
Dead Dad : Yup I am, here's another flashback....
Sibling1 : I hate you Sibling2.
Sibling2 : I hate you too, Sibling1.
Sibling1 : Hey I guess we've found narrative closure in our hatred.


When I saw "The Late Henry Moss" I felt perhaps I'd missed something. Perhaps my lack of theatre experience meant that this play, with no narrative as such, no real emotional grounding of its characters, who are generally not likeable, nor interesting and who shout at each other in uninspired if occasionally wry dialogue had a depth I was missing. I certainly didn't feel that inspiration had struck in the staging nor the performances which were played in that faux naturalism that only the overly theatrical can achieve. Neither fish nor fowl. Tonight, right now, I have this strange sense of deja vu, I've just seen the same play again and I feel cheated and quite angry. I don't know whether it's Shepard himself; I certainly can't remember a single line of dialogue from either play so as a wordsmith I am unsure of his qualities and I found the play pretentiously structured in ways that if attempted by Hollywood would be, rightly, decried as ham-fisted and hackneyed.

And yet both are four star plays according to the critics. In fact all the plays I've seen have received positive, if not always utterly glowing reviews. Yet if I look back, apart from "The Producers" which has nostalgic value and so cannot be judged fairly, the only play to really make me feel something was "Fuerzabruta", which admittedly is amongst the most amazing and profoundly moving artistic experiences of my life. As for the others, I don't understand what I'm missing.

I am told that these plays are either good or very good and yet I feel almost nothing at best , or at worst like tonight I actually leave the theatre seething that not only have I given up 2 hours of my life to this tripe, it's cost me twenty five quid for the privilege. I resent that. If a film were that bad I'd be furious but it wouldn't have cost £25 and if a gig were that bad I wouldn't see that band again, and I'd have left after three songs. And yet the theatre keeps expensively underwhelming me. Perhaps I have been very unlucky? Perhaps I'm not culturally sophisticated enough to appreciate the artform? Perhaps I am far too demanding and picky? But then why shouldn't I be? £25 for an average ticket is expensive and generally for my money I'm seeing a lot of people who seem to be going through the motions - not the visceral, magical, human experience I'd been led to believe I would feel.

From now on I am going to think twice about going to see mainstream theatre. I've given it a year of seeing all that I have been given the option to and by and large I am deeply unimpressed, and that depresses me as I was expecting so much. But maybe the problem lies closer to home.

I'm sorry, Sam, I just don't get it.


Blogger scruffylooking said...

I'm not a big fan of the theater either - it seems too claustrophobic and too over-acted. I just wait until they make it into a movie and watch that.

6:58 pm  

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