Going to Theater – The American Way

Going to Theater – The American Way
By Ioana Moldovan

The University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles
You’d think that going to see a play is the same everywhere in this wild world. Wrong! Every society has its way of staging things, has its own rituals around the event itself and if you are a theater critic, not only the performance is the show you must pay attention to, but it’s everything that goes around it as well. Every piece of theater is actually a fair piece of the society that it was conceived in and for.

For an Eastern European, the Mark Tape Forum in Los Angeles seams a building that just has been opened. So much creativity goes in the building and in the space around it that it seams the work of a contemporary and not at all a product of the ‘60s. It’s hard to believe that the American society, while breaking down taboos on sexism and racism, kept on building in such a way that 40 years later it still looks hip! And if from outside the theater looks so advanced, the performance hall is the grand matrix one is so accustomed with: the Greek amphitheater.
The foyer started to buzz with people around 7 in the evening, just one hour before the curtains were supposed to rise up. Sorry! For the light to go down – that is! The bar just left to the entrance was a sort of a mix alter, one for capitalism and business – another way to make an extra dollar, but I can also see the relevance of it in a foyer, as a modern worship place for Dionysus, the ancient Greek God of wine, the one whose crazy celebrations brought the art of tragedy to people.

I’ve passed the invitation the curly god was waving me into. I wanted to feel it all and let myself dazzled by the talent of the playwright, the director, the actors, the stage designer, the light designer… They all were the drug I wanted to taste. I wanted their wit and profoundness to play with my mind! I am a theater junkie and there for I am the perfect spectator to have in the audience. I pay attention to people’s conversation around me and if I get details I know that are not right, I enter the conversation explaining about everything, giving secret details on theater and its masonry. I am a performer of a kind, I think. I am the one that gives away for free points of view and little stories that make up the Gnostic theater history. Each audience, at each performance, everywhere in the world, has one of such every time. I like to think I am that one every time I step in a theater hall.

The Glass Menagerie is a play I’ve never dared to see. I feel it’s about my life and I am Tom and Laura, one each of a time. It’s a play about how the hardships can consume even ties that can’t really be broken, as the family ones. But then, if you look in a Darwinist view, a family will still survive, by name at least, if the toughest gets away from the pack that consumes him. And this is what Tom was doing – I thought.

I was curious how this all American story is told by Americans for Americans. I was ready to plunge in the complete darkness, only to emerge on the other side, with the characters. Just when I was taking that last breath of reality, ready for a 3 hours ride to where it happens, I bumped my head on the green EXIT sign. There is no pitch dark in an American theater! The stairs are all lit, as well as exit doors. One feels as in the airplane, flying in a protected and highly controlled way. The last thing you hear is a nice voice asking you to locate the nearest exit door. And they are not being polite in case you dislike the play and decide to go home before it ends.

“We do not perform unless the exit signs are switched off”, a character shouted in my mind, a distant play I’ve seen many times in Bucharest / Romania, in a basement. This is what Mr. Bruscon, in Histrionics by Austrian playwright Thomas Bernhard says at one point in the play. And he was right to ask for that, just as I wanted to shout that too. Or at least to whisper it to someone’s ear.

The new production of The Glass Menagerie at Mark Tape Forum in Los Angeles, directed by Gordon Edelstein was a new approach to otherwise a classic American piece, a one of a kind family drama, a memory play that seams to haunt the collective memory of the New World’s people. I would have never dared to link humor to Tennessee Williams. Even the witty lines stir only a grimace, never a laugh. But the audience laughed during this performance. And it wasn’t the Southern accent that made worlds run as long trains through one’s ears. There was a twist in each character that made them provoke laughter. The measure was the same in each, so as a whole the play went on harmoniously, without conflicting. It was as if the director took the chess pieces and the board, kept them in same positions but moved the whole ensemble from the shade and cold to nice spring light. Gordon Edelstein took the play from a lock-in status and delivered it again, as an open to interpretation text. Debates may stat here. Philosophy is ready to claim The Glass Menagerie’s domain but what really counts is the body language of the audience. They were surprised; they reacted and played along; they laughed and applauded. More than a few stud up to congratulate the bowing actors: Patch Darragh (as Tom), Judith Ivey (as Amanda), Keira Keeley (as Laura) and Ben McKenzie (as Jim).

The stage design envisioned a humble habitation, with pieces of furniture gathered only for the purpose of their function and no other attribute. The bed, the table, the chairs, the desk were entirely poorest version that were ever made by the early 20th century. The bleak atmosphere was there but characters seemed to live in another dimension, not really wanting to acknowledge their true lives.

I’ve watched dazzled the staged flooding with Judith Ivey’s Amanda: a powerful acting and a deep connection with the character, a natural flow of all that was her’s in the literature of the character through this three dimensional human being that seamed to rule over an entity so fragile delimited, on paper, by the author himself.

When it was time to blow the candle and wake up to reality, the audience started to wave as in a slow waking up: heads, face-muscles, hands. When the claps started to sound, the magic was dissolving rapidly.

It was surprisingly how little the audience was applauding, only enough for a bow for each actor. Probably each member of the audience is too much aware of the gratitude they’ve already shown by using their credit cards to enter there in the first place. And then, in America, more than in any other place,”time is money” and “tomorrow is another day”.

So the audience left in a hurry, as midnight was getting near. Don’t think all were about to turn into pumpkins.

Probably only me…

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