Friday Mack Attack, 1/30/09

let-my-people-come-lp-ad.jpgThis week I'm macking on: Philadelphia as a center for new play production. I wrote this article, which appeared in Thursday's Inquirer, about PlayPenn, a new play development workshop that's had an incredible track record with its accepted works. All six plays from the 2007 workshop have been chosen to grace professional stages around the country in 2008-09, and three of those stages are right here in my backyard. Seth Rozin, artistic director of InterAct Theatre, a member of the National New Play Network, and always a champion of new and provocative work, is also revving the engines for a new play initiative (tentatively called, ahem, the Philadelphia New Play Initiative) that will attempt to connect playwrights with producers. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say the scene right now is as full and well-rounded as I've ever seen it, and this concerted effort to seal the leaks by cementing playwriting into our foundation is both well-placed and well-timed. People seem to be sticking around, new, small, quality companies are cropping up all the time, and just as exciting, the companies who have been here all along are still producing, and producing some compelling stuff. It's been a long road, and one that led PlayPenn's Paul Meshijian and me to chuckle about the days when the only thing playing in town was an extended engagement of  the Oh! Calcutta! knockoff Let My People Come. Good times.

This week I'm hating on: Uncertainty. So you know how I just mentioned Seth Rozin and new plays? Well okay, I saw one of those new plays this week, Andrew Case's The Rant, and reviewed it here. But the thing is, my companion, a man whose opinion and analysis I trust deeply (And not just because he's my husband. Actually, in spite of that fact.) had a completely different reaction to the production than I did. This is also the first time, after many, many years of playgoing, we've diverged so sharply in our opinions of a show. 

The thing is, my analysis gets the public platform, while his sits there burning a hole in my inbox. So here's what he e-mailed back after reading the rough draft of my review:

I don't agree but I think you're fair.  The point I took away from the play is that everyone has a rant (a "beef") that's fueled by their perspective, motives and personal history, and this makes it impossible to judge the truth based solely on what people say.  So, I think Seth is successful in encouraging discussion.  By the way, it's a crime you're given so little space.

He's pretty good, isn't he? And we agree on that last point, anyway. 

Needless to say, the whole encounter really threw my sense of critical judgment into a tailspin. Did I somehow miss the point? Could it be possible that our opposing views are equally valid in a situation like this, political theater being polarizing by definition? Ultimately, I decided we're probably in agreement about the production's content, just disagreeing about its execution. 

However, if something larger can come of all this navel gazing, it's this: with reviewers being laid off en masse, having a forum in which to turn what was once a static, printed review into a living, breathing, mutating organism might just be the path to our salvation. If print media would commit to making an effort at integrating the cultural conversation into their online content, people like me wouldn't be stuck out here on our own, blogging gratis, and driving traffic away from what rightfully belongs to them. Or at least it once did. Before they gave it away.

January 29, 2009 8:30 PM | | Comments (4)


Nancy: Glad to have been given the opportunity.

George: That is one great factoid. Thanks.

Ranier: No, probably wouldn't have included an opposing opinion with more space, but might have been able to explore the gap in our experience a bit deeper. But that's why having a forum like this one is so useful--discussions about theater ought to be able to evolve, as our perception of art evolves, and very often a really compelling production changes shape after it has had time to ferment in one's subconscious for a while.

And excellent point about the play sparking further discussion, except I think it was the wrong sort of discussion. That is, we weren't discussing the play's content so much as whether the mechanics of the production were presented in a manner that served its message(s).

The issue is less with the space provided to individual reviewers than the lack of enough media outlets to provide a range of opinions to compare to each other (if you had extra space, would you have used it to put out an opinion you didn't share?).

In the into to Laughing Wild, Durang neatly compared the situation to film, where dozens of reviewers have a say in a show, to theatre, where usually one paper has a dominant view -- thus, in "love it or hate it plays" most people get only one view or the other, which rarely serves anyone.

I do wonder, in the case of this play, whether it isn't somehow ironic on the one hand to post twice on Twitter how you were discussing the play with your husband, and then put a post here about your further discussions, and to write that it was not a play that sparked discussion.

Ah yes, Wendy, that "Let My People Come" at Grendel's Lair ... which was followed at Grendel's Lair, weirdly enough, by the Philadelphia premiere of Caryl Churchill's "Cloud Nine," back in the early 1980s before Caryl Churchill was Caryl Churchill. Philly theatre's anything but predictable, even back in those days.

Dear Wendy:
I was delighted to see the article about Play Penn and Interact. There are very few major cities that can boast organizations that are devoted to play development and actually produce new works on a consistent basis. It is a risky task. Thanks for giving them the spotlight.

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