How Real Does It Need To Be?

There is apparently some brouhaha about the movie “Hurt Locker” and whether or not it is an accurate portrayal of bomb-defusers in Iraq, and this got me thinking about our own tiny little corner of the world.

There is a curious balance that one needs to strike when one is telling a story, because the meta-meaning is going to be sussed out by every audience member. When you watch Albee, you also know about Albee, so you start reading in to what you’re seeing, about what it might be *translated* into. But even when you’re dealing with new works by un-established playwrights, everyone is making snap distillations about the material and about it’s larger meaning.

We dealt with this a little bit with our last play “Viral”. Not to give too much away, but the story involved a suicidal character, and there was a small but vocal group who felt it wasn’t an accurate depiction of suicidal depression.

This is impossible to argue against, except to say that this is a story. We didn’t get our collective backs up about the criticism because there were different themes that Mac and Jordana were exploring, and the plot unfolded the way it did because… well, I guess because it did, that’s just how it happened. The playwright and the director, neither of them, are suicidal, and none of the actors or the production staff are either, so although we did the best we could to create an honest situation, there are those for whom it rang un-true.

I have to assume that those who leveled the criticism at the show *did* have some familiarity with suicide, and it can be particularly harrowing, when you’ve lost a loved one down that particular rabbit hole, to see it portrayed in a way that you feel is inaccurate. But the fact is, none of us can trust our memories completely, and we all experience things differently. As a matter of fact, I lost one of my closest childhood friends to suicide, and she was very similar to the character in our play, but that doesn’t make the criticism *wrong*. It means that I felt the story was truthful, from my point of view, and someone who lost a different sort of person in the same way… they just wouldn’t agree.

I do think, though, that the search for some kind of pitch-perfect truth in theater is a fool’s errand. It may be one of the greatest problems with modern theater, that we want realism and we shun allegory. “Hurt Locker” is not going to be close to some, or even most, Iraq War bomb-defusers’ stories, but does that mean the movie isn’t worth watching? Is there not something in the story that transcends whether or not it actually happened that way?

It’s the strangest thing. We all know there’s no Mordor, but we want the ship’s captain in “Master and Commander” to be wearing the exact right coat. We all know that Gregory House’s character on House is a fictional charming addict, but we’re furious when we find out that James Frey’s character is as well. I remember the uproar about the liberties taken with “Fargo”, as if the re-tooling of the story made it inferior somehow.

If I tell you a story from my life, I’m going to lie. Every story you’ve told is a lie as well. We don’t mean to lie, we’re just saying what we remember, what we took away from it. It’s why talk-therapy is so useful, even if you’re a liar. The lies you tell still tell the truth about yourself. And that’s all we’re doing in the theater, we’re telling lies that hopefully work as allegories that one can divine truth out of.