Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Caught the closing of The Mystery of Irma Vep the other night at the Court in honor of my friend Jack's birthday. What a fantastic show.

I always like Closing nights in general - much more than opening - because they tend to feel like a party, rather than an audition. In fact, in the past year, three of my four or five favorite shows I caught on closing night. But, anyway...

Two really interesting things struck me about Irma Vep. First, for all the talk about making theater more like a Rock Concert, this show made it pretty clear: make it great. Really good theater, theater that grabs you by the neck, has the same visceral effect as rock music. That's it. You can toss in a lot of other nonsense that happens to be at rock concerts, but that won't do anything. Make the show exciting, unpredictable, fantastic, and most importantly: share your virtuosity. What makes Rock music or the Blues so accessible and so immediate is how evident their excellence is. When the form is simple, it's easy to shine. How do you know a great runner? He's the one you can't catch. How do you know a great golfer? I don't know: they all seem to be doing the same thing to me.

Theater is a remarkably complicated medium. There's hundreds of hours put into all kinds of things that in the best case, audiences will never notice, but highlighting specific, approachable excellences is what excites audiences.

The other intriguing thing about Irma Vep is its position as a classic. To a surprising degree, the director's art is really most evident when working with a classic text. This is why I suppose, a lot of serious directors spend most of their time working with classics, I imagine, though I doubt they'd admit it. If you already know Our Town, you'll be amazed when there's new life there. This is, by the way, the same reason that even in their own time writers like Euripides and Shakespeare were so astonishing. They were telling stories - we only thought we knew.

The funny thing about this is that the Court's production of Irma Vep situates it as a classic even though all that that entails - being widely known - is lacking. So Graney's astonishing work with the final scene is not received as directorial virtuosity. It should still seem like a tremendous coup, but Graney's a lot less likely to get the credit.

Well here it is, absurdly belated, and completely irrelavent: well done, sir. And to the cast and crew of and all of the unseen hours (you minding the ropes in act two), thanks for your virtuosity.

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