For this play, I won a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship. Needless to say, having a panelists of four experts in the field, totaling more than 100 years of experience as professional theater artist, giving you the highest score in the whole theater competition is a nice balance to the reviews the play's writing received. Of course, neither the praise nor the bewilderment is the point, and so I'll leave it at that. The monies I will receive for the fellowship will allow me to be free of teaching this summer so that I can complete Because Beauty Must Be Broken Daily.
This week, Fool for Love opens at the FGCU Theatre Lab, and it's been a treat to work with Barry Cavin and Armano Rivera again, and it's a pleasure to be working with new actors in Becca Goldberg and Mark Hancock. It's going to be a very fun run, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what we can do.
The pleasure of doing Fool for Love is in doing a play that is so well written, something built on its own necessary terms and fulfilling that obligation on those terms. Too many contemporary plays simply sell out to the audience. I get that impulse to please the audience, especially for anything that appears Off-Broadway, let alone on Broadway, where people are paying $100-500 dollars per seat, and you sure as heck don't want to produce something that's not going to break even. And while I love going to the Florida Rep and other local theater productions, we rarely get to see really good contemporary plays. I'm not talking about the obvious weaknesses in comedies--actually, those productions are among the best the Florida Rep does. I'm talking about the "serious fare," the Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists of dramas that are so profoundly bad.
A current production of the "Tony-nominated" Time Stands Still at the Florida Rep perfectly exemplifies my disappointment. The acting is superb, the direction is spot on, the technical work deeply admirable--I enjoyed the performance immensely. But while nearly all the local reviewers praised the play for its bold, relevant, and moving writing, I found the play to be banal, retrograde, predictable, and normative. It was one of those plays, daring to be realistic and relevant, that eventually was all about rewarding the audience's passivity, where they could feel comfort in having marriage, sexual order, male privilege, and simpering feminine emotionalism being all confirmed as values above art, above responsibility, and above witnessing (the difficult moral witnessing, of paying attention for its own sake--not for the sake of an end, which the play just got wrong). Despite the play bringing us to the ugly realities of war, it served to make the audience feel superior to NPR liberals. Wow. Big accomplishment.
The problem with theater is the expense involved with the productions. You have to have an audience, and that's an especially difficult challenge. I admire Florida Rep for bringing first rate talent and first rate productions to our community. And they have had some very good plays produced (Little Foxes, to name one from this season). It's why I subscribe to their series and donate a modest amount annually to their good and valiant endeavors. My beef really isn't with those theaters at all.
To have really tremendous theater, you have to have those small houses, and hopefully, a sufficiently large enough audience to be able to support those small ventures, an audience willing to participate with nerve, love, and intelligence. It's an intelligence that requires the imagination, that can be secure enough to be receptive, and that can deal with other modes of revelation that exist beyond the tyranny of lineal narrative and confirmation.