On the status of revivals appearing in contemporary American theater.

March 21, 2008

I have been pondering lately the situation of Revival Theater here in America and more specifically on Broadway. I myself have spent time working for a not-for-profit theater company that focused on revivals and have grown up with the idea that such endeavors are beneficial for the cultural growth of our community. I still believe in that today but I would like to consider with such an idea the reality of the amount of revive-able theater there is. So thinking about these two aspects, first the benefits of having older shows revived and second the amount of shows we can revive, I have come to consider the process in choosing what to revive when. This process is not something I’ve put much thought to in the past. When Cabaret opened a few years back I thought it was phenomenal. I loved it to the extent that I saw it five times before it closed. Never once though did I think about why Roundabout was putting it on now. What had compelled them to pick this production for this date? Perhaps they themselves didn’t have an answer for that but I find that hard to believe.


So I started there, thinking about these various aspects of revival culture and have begun to formulate some conclusions, obviously these conclusions are based around examples, recent ones that I had the good fortune to see last week. In the two examples I pondered the question of how one should pick what production to revive when.


Let me start with the bad case, South Pacific which is currently in preview at Lincoln Center in New York. The show is a classic work of theater and this current production stars Kelli O’Hara a contemporary master of theatrical performance. And yet I cite this as a bad case of theatrical revival. My parents, who I saw the show with, will cite the stage direction as the primary reason for disappointment. I agree with them but I found yet another problem. For me I felt that what I had seen was in essence and in form, a rerun. The idea disturbed me, have we forced theater into such a commercial atmosphere that what is being produced now is only the garbage we know was once successful? WHERE IS THE RISK! If I wanted to see the South Pacific from the 50s I would have rented the movie!


Now let me back up for a second here and clarify a few things. I do not mean to say that the show should have been altered to be set in a modern time, no that is not the essence of reviving a show. Rather the script needs to be looked at, the morals of the story evaluated and the director and crew need to ask themselves what their vision is. That is fundamental with reviving, a new vision, a new interpretation, a new show. If a director cannot discover some new vision in the work he is charged with reviving, than perhaps he should not be reviving it. Ultimately what I am suggesting is that revivals are not revivals but are productions of their own, that’s why we award the best a Tony each year. These are unique creative works that are both tied to the original as well as the contemporary culture to which they are presented.


This brings me to the second show, a show I believe greatly reflects the continued trends in our culture over how to deal with art and industry. Sunday in the Park with George, a wonderful Sondheim production which is currently being revived at Studio 54 by the Roundabout Theatre Company. Now first I am aware that this production is much more modern in its original than South Pacific and therefore lends itself better to being revised. However the themes of the original show are not all that is inspiring and encouraging about the current revival. This particular production utilized technology in a truly enhancing way. This new approach allowed for the production itself to do what the music and action already have mastered, create. When revived again, I can promise you that this show will not look like it does for the way in which this director has envisioned the story is unique, it is not a shadow of yesteryear as seen in South Pacific.


With that being said I’ll end with my opinion and hope it fosters a discussion. Revivals are unique, they are neither new productions nor reruns of old productions, they are a hybrid, a truly unique formula for producing a show that needs to be treated accordingly. In that treatment of such works the question of why must be easily answered by the audience. It is vision and relevance that pick the shows for revision, not original popularity. I love revivals, I love how they can connect today with yesterday by both honoring the history of theater while adding to it. In this respect South Pacific does not add to the culture of theater, it only mimics it. But seeing how it has already received much attention I may be wrong in how America wants to use the idea of revivals. Perhaps all we really want is mimicry. After all thousands perhaps millions more flock to museums than galleries, are we really so tied up in glorifying our past that we forget we have a present?


That is all,



Racine uses classics to teach in modernity

February 5, 2008

“The passions are portrayed merely in order to show the aberrations to which they give rise; and vice is painted throughout in colours which bring out its hideousness and hatefulness. That is really the objective which everyone working for the public should have in mind. And it is what the tragedians of early times aimed at above all else. Their theatre was a school in which virtue was taught not less well than in the schools of the philosophers. Hence it was that Aristotle was prepared to lay down rules for drama; and Socrates, the wisest of philosophers, did not disdain to lend a hand to the composition of Euripides’ tragedies. It would be greatly to be desired that modern writings were as sound and full of useful precepts as the works of these poets. This might perhaps provide a means of reconciling to tragedy a host of people famous for their piety and their doctrine who have recently condemned it and who would no doubt pass a more favourable judgement on it if writers were as keen to edify their spectators as to amuse them, thereby complying with the real purpose of tragedy.”

-Racine’s Preface to Phaedra (translated by John Cairncross, Penguin Group, London, 2004.)

As artists of the contemporary world, do you feel compelled to teach?

The Overwhelming and political art

December 24, 2007

Starting right now I am going to beginning documenting reviews of events, shows, movies, books, and so for that I come across in my artistic travels.

For this first review post (of which the reader must be absolutely aware that I am in no way a reviewer and see this more for me to place ideas and thoughts about this piece as the connect to the greater discussion of the culture of art, but anyway in some fashion this will represent a review) I will comment on a new work off Broadway titled The Overwhelming (no link because today was the last showing, they have already taken down the site) by J. T. Rogers and directed by Max Stafford-Clark. The play is currently running at Roundabout Theatre’s Laura Pels Theatre in midtown New York. But enough about its logistics on to why I liked it.

The only real reason I am choosing to bring it up is, well two reasons. First it played with the form of drama in a rather interesting way. First the characters were not afraid to interrupt each other and all talk at once, there were many dialogue sequences with multiple speakers, thus leaving the audience confused as to who to focus on. I am an audience member who likes to be confused. Second the final sequence of dialogue was interrupted by the speaker’s decision to focus his speech on the audience, not a new trick, but an extremely effective one. He was telling us that we’d forget about it, that we’d go back to our lives. The play itself is about Rwanda and the genocide that occurred; the events in the play coincide with the months leading up to the beginning of the genocide in 1994. There were some very powerful quotes to be taken from this play, among them were the ideas of peace, war, strangers, American involvement in foreign affairs, and so on. Questions that are prevalent today and that last act by the character to turn to the audience made that fact abundantly clear.

The second reason I bring this up is that it is a new work, using a political theme to present a message, a very traditional play in some sense but one that is of our time, and I am curious about that power it currently holds. It received a standing ovation, but did it receive it because of the true genius it portrayed or rather because of its significance for our current situation? What I am really getting it is were we not in a war, and were we not dealing with American involvement in the Middle East, involvement to the extant that it is greatly dividing our country, would this play still get a standing ovation?

Does that answer really matter?

(To be honest the first thought that comes to mind is the fact that this has strayed from being a review, but I like where this is going so forget my review idea for now, this has become an artistic discussion and will be filed under such, now back to the discussion.)

I am curious what people think in regards to the current importance or rather the current message a piece has. Does this work backwards? If an old piece that was considered bad art from yesteryear, today become extremely powerful and poignant, would we reconsider its artistic value?

Just some food for thought while we all prepare to feast on the holidays.



November 14, 2007

what is Godot?