The Real Drama

I’m doing my usual weekly routine of spending a half hour or so catching up on blogs and checking out what’s being reviewed, and it occurs to me that, even in the most legitimate papers, there seems to be a lot of discussion of the personalities of those *making* the theater, as much as the theater itself.

For “Bach at Leipzig” there seems to be no end to the Stoppard comparison, and every single review mentions that Stoppard wrote the introduction to the published play. I understand why it’s important to compare one’s work to the giants upon who’s shoulders your standing. It’s more than just an intellectual exercise, once you’ve established context and you know directly the pieces that inspire this piece, you can better get a sense of where this artist or set of artists fits into the world.

But how relevant is it that Stoppard wrote an intro to the published version of the play? A produced play is the opposite of a published play. The published play is a distillation of action into word, the produced play is the word expanded into performance. What does it say that Stoppard wrote an intro? I mean, I think I have an answer, but I’ll get back to that.

“Woman in White” can’t be reviewed without two things. One, making reference to several other Andrew Lloyd Weber plays, and a discussion of how much those plays are liked or disliked, and two, a reference to the fact that the leading lady just underwent breast cancer surgery and made it back to the stage almost immediately. I can understand a certain amount of contextualization when refering to his other works, but why slam them? nd what difference does it make that a person recovered from surgery so quickly, when reviewing the actual play?

I went to see “The Ark” for three reasons. One, my mom is friends with the people who wrote it. Two, I have a friend who’s singing swing in the show, but Three, mostly I just went because it’s a musical that’s opened off Broadway and it would do me good to see what other people are doing. I didn’t like the show, and I’ll explain why in a minute, but every review I’ve stumbled upon mentions that the artists who were making this show are practicing Mormons. It’s an old testament show, there’s even a joke in the show that memorizing the bible as it is would only be four pages long, there is absolutely nothing in the show that gives a clue to the religion of the creators.

So. Here’s the reason we have to read through all the personalities while we’re reading the reviews. Theater, like everything else, is a cult of personality. Gideon has made the mistake of going into every project declaring ourselves to be the creators of the things we’ve created up to this point, but that body of work is just that – plays. We’re not tying ourselves into anything juicy. People really like our plays, and for that we’re grateful, but more than that people like us. There are “Mac Rogers” fans out there, but they are largely fans of him, as a guy. There are people who adore Jordana and who laugh at my jokes, but we aren’t building a fan base because of our theater. I guarantee you, everyone who likes my work or Jordana’s work or Mac’s work has spoken to us in person. They probably have our email addresses.

There has to be some kind of human interest in New York, something that seperates you. A lot of times, it’s hanging your hat on the famous person who’s taken you under his or her wing. Tony Nominee Melissa Hart stars in Fleet Week, that kind of thing. If I said “Melissa Hart” you might wonder if I meant Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Maybe we would have sold more tickets, who knows…

But Fleet Week sold because it ran at The Lortel, our next show will sell because it’s going up at Theater Row. The Ark will sell to people who are interested in seeing what practicing Mormons are telling our children. The Mormons have managed to make themselves seem far less creepy now than they were twenty years ago, they’re the guys who help you change a flat tire on the side of the road, not the dudes who won’t let blacks hold the priesthood and believe in plural marriage. The Ark isn’t theater, it’s Christian Theater, with a capital C.

“Woman In White” will sell more tickets because people want to see what ALW is up to, and they want to see the cancer survivor. “Bach At Leipzig” has basically announced its playwright as the heir apparent to Stoppard. He is the Sondheim to Stoppard’s Hammerstein.

This does feed into my earlier posts on the problems with producing. You need something extra-theatrical, by which I mean outside the bounds of simply theater, to promote your show with. There might be a story in the sick relationship Mac, Jordana and I have, but I bet you anything if we started spreading the rumor that the three of us had a fucked-up open marriage gay tryst kind of thing, regardless of how sickening the idea of poor Jordana getting double teamed by the twin mongloids that Mac and I are, we would probably sell more tickets.


I didn’t like “The Ark” for a couple of reasons. Chiefly, the entire play takes place aboard the Ark, which is outside the realm of the real tensions that are in the biblical story. It doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been some really messed up shit happen, some of my favorite plays are when people are stuck in one place over a period of time, and that closeness forces them into dealing with stuff they normally wouldn’t.

But in the biblical story, Noah’s faith is tested as he builds the ark, and he is vindicated when the rain comes. Then, after they find dry land, they have to deal with repopulating the earth. While you are in the theater, the set makes it impossible to imagine that anything will happen not on the Ark, and you’re stuck in what my brother Ian calls “A Bathtub Story”, where the action of the story will take place in the bathtub and when the character leaves the bathtub, the story will end. Of course, they named it “The Ark”, so that’s a clue right there.

It’s just that the problems on board the Ark, that men don’t listen to their wives and that wives don’t know how to cook and love to shop… Good God. The bible is the richest piece of literature we have. There could be a musical about being on the Ark, one full of madness and resentment and faith, one where people provide strength for one another in surprising ways, one in which these few people show that they will be the beginning of a new humanity. But what we got in this musical was the most banal people, singing songs designed for easy digestion and one moment of religious conversion that comes out of nowhere.

And maybe that was my biggest complaint. If the show was made by believers in God, surely they would understand that a person doesn’t just drop to his knees for no reason and ask for God and God comes to him. Or… maybe that is how it happens. Maybe God does just come to people and I don’t have the right temperemant. Maybe one day I will, despite the personality traits I’ve exhibited for 35 years, drop to my knees and ask for God and He will come into my life. But if that’s right, then it’s no wonder this play meant very little to me.