Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Facts and Fictions

Smart.  Last night I saw Red Tape Theatre's Enemy of the People.  If you haven't seen it yet you may want to stop reading now because I want to talk about a really amazing trick that works in part, by surprise.  As in my response to A Red Orchid Theatre's The Unseen, I am constantly astonished by the simplicity of the creation of wonder in the theater.  Because, unlike film, a theater audience is constantly constructing reality from a series of rules that are accepted but utterly transient.  In The Unseen, of course I know that Danny is just standing on a stage, of course I even know that it's Danny.  But I've built him into a cell and I've built him into Wallace. When he disappears during a blackout, and I'm terrified that he's been abducted and is being tortured, I've done that.  Nothing that is true has been transcended, but everything I've made has been used to exploit what is true when the two confront each other.

In some ways the opposite of this miracle is undertaken in a brilliant surprise in James Palmer's direction of Enemy of the People. At the start of the performance the curtain speech requests that every audience member leave the theater completely during the intermission.  Here's what's true: we are in a church gymnasium, we are at a performance by a small theater company in it's second year.  We are willing to believe, in a race of thoughts, that we need to leave so that a significant set change can occur, a little odd, but hey that's storefront theater.

At intermission we casually leave the theater and sort of any-old-how mosey into a little lobby where there are some drinks and plenty of space to sit or stand.  Intermission is unremarkable. Then, one of the actors comes out into the lobby and walks briskly to a group of people, maybe they are friends of his.  A little weird, but...so it goes.  Suddenly it's obvious: the next scene was supposed to be a town hall meeting.  Fact: we are in a meeting room in a small church.  We create: we are at the meeting.  

That's it.  Suddenly we are at a Town Hall meeting.  The provision of drinks, the ample seating, Palmer used the facts of our condition to create a theatrical miracle.  It's the employment of these facts that I want to advocate.  A phone rings: we all know.  A prop is dropped, we all know.  The cohabitation of facts and fictions doesn't "take us out," isn't a "distraction," it's the foundation of theatrical artifice, and oh my god, it's rewarding.

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