Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil: On Closure

It was while reading all the backwash about the season finale of The Sopranos that I realized one of the major problems playwrights, theater, and the arts are having as well: the demand of audiences for closure. I wouldn't compromise my vision to placate the audience, but luckily, I haven't yet been given an ultimatum to do so. This, at least, is a blog: I answer to no editor, and my audience, limited as it may be, is pretty accepting of whatever wild theories I may fling out there. But David Chase, who's big as they come in the wake of his success, got panned by "America" and it looks like it's only writers and fellow artists who enjoyed the final episode.

As of yet, David Grindley is one of the few directors I've ever seen willing to sustain a show through the obligatory curtain call, and he did so with Journey's End, which has been suffering. As with The Sopranos, the writers get it, the fellow artists do, but the audience itself, again this great confused entity of popular opinion called "America" hasn't responded well to it. Admittedly, it's a lot easier to accept a big show-closing number, even when it's depressing, than it is to have the play cast a lingering pallor over our moods, but why are we so afraid to allow ourselves to be affected?

Not that you have to end Pippin or Machinal without a curtain call, or that they're necessarily better for maintaining the artistic sentiments expressed within, but that so many people are frightened of making a stand, and so eager to break the illusion (look at our modern playwrights and the fourth-wall breaking trends) . . . that worries me a little. Comedies mock this all the time, like The Actor's Nightmare, in which George is killed at the end, and remains dead through the curtain call -- but that's OK for the audience, because it's just another joke. Were Pippin not to bring the players back onstage, despite them "quitting" moments before, the audience would be confused. In Machinal, the beauty of our heroine's tragic death is completely stripped by her reappearing thirty seconds later, smiling, bowing, and nodding, with little regard to the emotional journey that the cast has worked so hard to maintain.

Blogs rarely have closure, which is one of the reasons they undergo such scrutiny from the mainstream media: they offer topics for debate and give opinions, but these are often light pieces, unsubstantiated gossip or opinions, and not conclusive essays with beginnings, middles, and end. I would argue that it's not really lazy writing, just a different media, one that's trying to engage rather than simply to declare. This is Barry Champlain, trying to reach his audience, only to find out that nobody actually wants to connect, they just want to be told what to think: that way it remains at a distance, and therefore purely as entertainment.

Did I offer you a solution, or close up the magical question of what the status of theater is? No. Did I get you thinking about it? I hope so.

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