Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Language, Language, Language

Still caught up in the exuberant English of God's Ear, but I thought I'd comment briefly on something David Cote said in his preview of the show, something that should be painfully obvious to those who have seen this production (though pleasantly surprising for New Georges): why it is that "cult favorites such as Melissa James Gibson, Young Jean Lee and, yes, Schwartz still can't get arrested above 14th Street." As Cote points out, at least Playwrights Horizon and Manhattan Theater Club are producing someone like Adam Bock this year (and apparently Eric Grode of The Sun, my new hero, pulled hard for The Thugs). At the same time, he justifies the statement by mentioning that these "classics-oriented outfits" are "dabbling in new titles," as if it's a passing thought, rather than an artistically motivated decision.

But hey! Why is it that Sheila Callaghan, even after last year's triumphant Dead City, has nothing major in the city at the moment? I love Neil LaBute (especially the under-appreciated Fat Pig), and I'm glad that MCC has lavished such attention on him, but it seems to me that such partnerships (like Primary Stages and Terrance McNally or Playwrights Horizon and Christopher Durang) wind up churning out mediocre (at best) works, while the innovative wordsmiths scuttle about on the fringe. Why is the only time I see a Daniel MacIvor play at a festival? (And ones with somewhat self-deprecating names like the "Fringe" or "Under the Radar," as if that's where these plays should remain -- no disrespect to the awesome festivals themselves.) Some artists are at least by choice taking on site-specific work, like Lisa D'Amour, who last year explored multimedia in the stunning Stanley (2006), but are these artists doomed to HERE, PS122, and Walkerspace until they conform? (Not that that's much of a punishment: these spaces are rich with a myriad of intimate possibilities.)

I understand the commercial aspect of theater. And I understand that Broadway has more or less inflated the entire market (as has New York itself) by making the cost of living or producing so high that it's hard to be dedicated (the stuff of dreams). But I'm terrified that the pull-quote in this article is from New Georges' artistic director, Susan Bernfield, saying that "We have a bigger responsibility for the stuff that's perceived as weird." Not because Bernfield is anything less than a saint, and god bless her for producing such new and vibrant works, but because of the honesty in that statement: the great responsibility of pushing theater ahead has fallen far from Broadway, and shows have become "cult" where they should have become "classic." Push that envelope, people. Paper cuts today, Broadway tomorrow.

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