I've noticed a growing slant in my reviews, and I want to honestly air it. If you perform a show in a small, cramped space -- if you use the audience for part of the performance -- if there's not so much distance between the stage and the first row -- I'm probably going to be more interested in your show. Now, it's not a bias: I still like highly theatrical Broadway shows that rely on distance and space, but that's an aesthetic type of show, like the heavily stylized Coast of Utopia, which I connected to more on a visual than emotional level. But I can't help but think that Well did so much better off-Broadway than on because it had an easier time connecting (filling a smaller house, too), and that one of the reasons I liked Macbeth: A Walking Shadow better than the Public's version was that I felt more implicit in the show.
My basic take is that shows have compensated for the ebbing fourth-wall in theater by simply increasing the comfort zone between audience and actor. What it results in is an audience that has the luxury of tuning out; an audience of observers, but no more activists. I like that the Neo-Futurists of Too Much Light Make the Baby Go Blind will pull you up on-stage, and that if you mess with them, they'll mess with you. I like that in volume of smoke, Isaac Butler made us implicit in the theatrical tragedy of 1881 by placing his actors (who played audience members) right next to us in the audience.
I saw Howard Katz and Los Angeles within the same month, and liked the latter, less professional production more. Why? Because in the cramped underbelly of The Flea, with a suffering girl slumped over the divider, her head practically in my lap, I'm more alert, more sympathetic, and more interested in the work. I'm active, whereas with Marber's play, I was admiring the acting, sure, but also drawn to the noisy old man beside me who kept fidgeting with something in a plastic bag. Alfred Molina is far more entertaining than old men with mysterious packages (usually), but proximity is a huge factor in personal investment.
If we really are becoming more apathetic theatergoers, we need to get more invested in our shows. Hard to ignore a show that's being performed in a bathroom, an elevator, or a train. (Or, as in The Sublet Experiment, in someone's house.) This upcoming interactive play I'm seeing, Accomplice: New York, promises to mix theater with life. Rotozaza's Five in the Morning as PS122 uses audience members, or something. From what I heard about Hell House, it was a very lively experience. Maybe I'm just too young to sit idly in my chair and appreciate a show; maybe I need to depreciate in age before I can do that. Or maybe it's really just about restoring that connection between the stage and the audience, about remembering that we're all really, when it comes right down to it, on the same stage, all together, all one.