Dan Trujillo has a thoughtful response to Mr. Feingold, requesting further precision–go read it.
And I guess I would respond by saying: yes, Feingold is general, because it is generally that big of a problem. So what is the “it” that’s such a problem? you ask and quite rightly, be specific!
I will sound vague. But it’s a stunning lack of the Thing, which I’ve written about before. You know, the Thing. When the play is Thingy, when artistic choices are actually unfolding and we’re in the same room and the room vibrates, and it’s very exciting because you know that the artists are not compromising their complete pursuit of a story or obsession or idea or genre or theory.
In the three full years of living and making work in New York, I saw only four–no, five–plays there that hit the Thing. And I saw a lot of fucking plays.
1. Ivo von Hove’s production of Streetcar Named Desire at New York Theater Workshop.
2. The ’99 revival of Kiss Me Kate, the only time I saw a Broadway musical and understood the magic that B’way must once have been.
3. A shockingly stirring production of an otherwise simplistically constructed play called The Trial of One Shortsighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae. I know, it’s I Ain’t Yo Uncle all over again, but really, it was one of the most alive, exciting, things I’ve ever seen.
4. Target Margin’s Seagull was just dripping with Thing from the first moment.
5. Matt Wilder’s Secret History of the Lower East Side had slabs of Thing in it.
[Just wanted to add to the post that I left NYC in 2001, people. But I still remember with startling specificity every single Thingy play I saw–because it was so rare and surprising.]
Of course, the Wooster Group is always and entirely Thingy, but they’re such a fait accomplit that they don’t even count.
Now that I think about it, Thing = RADIANT ENGAGEMENT THAT COMES FROM THE ARTIST’S DESIRE TO COMMUNICATE/INTERROGATE USING THE MEDIUM OF LIVE PERFORMANCE. Isn’t that the bare-assed minimum we should be able to expect from theater? If a play can’t even hit that, what’s the goddamn point?
It isn’t a genre problem. It’s a problem throughout the American theater. I see it in the so-called “avant garde”/”experimental”. I see it on Broadway, in the regional theaters, in the universities, in fringe fests and amphitheaters, in community-based theater, political theater, revivals, Shakespeare plays, musicals, performance art, “physical” theater, theater created with Viewpoints and Strassberg and Stanislavski and a hope and a prayer. A void of Thing. A huge gaping hole lack of Thing.
Yet, it has become so rare for a theater production to have Thing, that even when a play is flawed or intellectually lazy, or has an inconsistent script, or is politically meh, or makes artistic choices that I think aren’t very interesting, I will forgive it. I will forgive all for Thing. Jesus, it has become a luxury to be able to even have that kind of conversation about a play.
What Feingold hit on for me is what I am so lonely for: theater with something to say and do and make, that knows why it’s live and why it exists, why it’s important that the material is presented as theater or live art and not any other medium.
Bold, sincere, rigorous use of the medium. Combination of craft and intellect asking the difficult, unsolveable questions, creating art, creating that wonderful moment when things don’t get solved or get made easy for us. Theater that asks something of its audience, that asks something of itself. Surprise. Wonder. Glorious manipulation. Fellowship. Confrontation.
Theater that isn’t so collapsed to the apparatus that it doesn’t even try, because it has already settled for being more of the same.
This has become a ramble. Does it help?