Thursday, May 22, 2008

Change of Plans/Nunsense

I came to the realization last night (yes, after Nunsense) that seeing all the theatre I'm seeing is of no use if I don't maintain any sort of record of my thoughts about the shows I'm seeing. So, while it may not be full on reviewing, I will be keeping track of thoughts of note or reactions of interest to everything I see. This is for me. This is for me to keep track of what works for me and what doesn't; what is revelatory to me and why; what is hideous to me and why; and how this can affect my work in the future (that last one may end up as more of a mental exercise on my end, but know that it's there nonetheless). Of course, while this is for me, the reason I'm placing it in public view is because I hope (or at least want to allow) for it to be a springboard for other ideas as well. So feel free to jump on board at any time.

Also, just a note in the wake of the Don Hall review controversy bonanza: I will be plainly honest in these. I may not have the same polarizing writing style as Don, but if something doesn't work for me, I'm gonna say it straight out. Every Monday or Tuesday, I lay out my upcoming calendar, so if you know I'm coming to something you're involved in and you absolutely don't want me to write about, just let me know right away. I've been there, I understand.

With that, it all begins with Nunsense -- who'd a thunk?

Nunsense isn't my bag. I knew that going in. Hell, I knew walking into the Marriott that almost anything put up there probably isn't my bag. So the fact that the script is pun-heavy and broad and, let's face it, not particularly funny didn't surprise me. What surprised me is that the ladies on stage were almost always content with playing pun-heavy, broad, and not particularly funny. I hesitate to use the term, but the script's 'strength' is the punchline. It's already written in; there's no missing these jokes, you couldn't if you tried. And what the majority of the actresses (and the director is just as at fault) have done is hone in on the punchline and play it for all it's worth. The theory is sound -- we know what the script has going for it, let's make sure we feature it -- but in practice it only weighs down an already lop-sided script.

In fact, they weighed it so heavy that the few moments the script does set aside for emotional effect were all but bowled over. The single moment of emotional honesty in the whole show didn't come until the second to the last song of the show. The disjointed second act sputtered along from set-up to set-up until Abby Mueller stepped in with Sister Mary Amnesia's "I Could've Gone to Nashville", a song with some intimacy to it, but by all means comedic as well. Yet, as I'm listening to her discovery, I start to feel that little bit of welling rising up in my chest -- that feeling that had been completely absent in the show so far: genuine interest in these characters as people. At that moment I was a little bit shocked. Not because in that second Nunsense had struck a heartstring, but because I realized that until that second Nunsense had managed to, with overbearing joke after overbearing joke, beat me into a place where I just sat and stared, no longer asking for that personal connection. And then the song ended, the moment passed, the requisite big closing song and dance was rolled out and two-thirds of the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation.

That's when I realized that, for most of them, theatre had become (or always was, who knows?) a routine and that standing was simply their part to play. That a good chunk of them had probably stood for more shows than sat. And I could only wonder then how many of them had been beat into that same place; how many of them had always been ritualized and how many had to be forced there by years of unsubtle shows about nuns. And (how) can we fix that for those who have?


1 comment:

ian mackenzie said...

Wow. This is a powerful reflection on your experience. I feel bad for the Nunsense ladies – and the audience.

How to deprogram passive audiences? I doubt there's much hope for this particular audience. But maybe more and better media literacy training at the primary school level would help in the long term?