Monday, May 21, 2007

Boston Theatre Marathon IX (and disturbing omissions)

I attended one of my favorite theatrical events on Sunday, the annual Boston Theatre Marathon. The Marathon features 50 ten-minute plays by 50 different New England writers, each produced by a different New England theatre company. Running from noon until 10pm, with five plays every hour, it's an event with a great amount of energy, sparked by fifty casts performing for a warm crowd.

One of BTM's strengths is that theatres of all different sizes participate. So the Huntington and the ART both produce plays (the ART does a Robert Brustein play every year) alongside the Devanaughn Theatre and Hovey Players. With more than 150 local actors involved, it's an unparalleled chance to see Boston's theatre community in action.

I've been lucky to have had four plays in past Marathons, but I didn't have on in this year's festival. (So the comments below should be seen with that in mind, I suppose.)

I got to my seat right at noon as the lights were going down, and I lasted all the way until 9pm. It's a lot easier to last the whole day now that the venue has been shifted to the Stanford Calderwood Pavillion Wimberly Theatre, a beautiful new theatre built for the Huntington, that seats 360 in very comfy seats. The BTM used to be at Boston Playwrights theatre, which is small, and has seats that cause partial paralysis after three or four hours.

Still, I couldn't make it to the final hour. I was just too tired, and all the plays were starting to blur together for me, and weak scripts that might not have seemed so bad in hour 3 or 4, now felt excrutiating in my exhausted state. No sense hating plays that don't deserve it.

I'll spare you my rundown of the entire festival. The first hour was particularly strong, and I really enjoyed Gary Garrison's play, Storm on Storm (with my weather background from Tornado Siren, it was right up my alley). Bob Murphy and Kelly Lawman were delightful in it. Ranch on the Run wasn't a perfect play, but at least it offered a bit of whimsy and theatricality, with a short tale about a runaway house. My Rhombus friends Kirsten Greenidge and Leslie Dillen both were well-served by their productions of their plays.

One play that caught my attention was Ritz Rendezvous by Gregory D'Angelo, produced by the Stoneham Theatre. The chemistry of the actors, Christopher James Webb and Jessica Webb really drew me in and and had me laughing hard. Great timing.

There were a few duds here and there, but no total train wrecks.

I was disappointed in the general lack of imaginativeness and theatricality of the staging of plays (though it was great to see a kayak on stage). Rough & Tumble did their part, along with Ranch on the Run (mentioned above), but there were an awfully lot of domestic dramas and comedies. I found myself pining desperately for something fantastical, something that at least offered bright colors and something interesting to look at. This was the first year I can remember with no musicals.

I find it very disturbing that in the 44 plays that I watched, there were no strong political plays (with the exception of Monica Raymond's very gentle, Hijab). There was one tiny mention of the Iraq war in The Polish Pictures by Monica Bauer, and a few references to George Bush in The Red and The Blue, but all minor. There was nothing in the nine hours of plays that I watched that would make you realize that we're at war and have been at war for more than four years. Nothing to make you realize that the current presidential administration is drowning in its own incompetence. Nothing that talks about the current state of race relations, about class in America, about the current rise of corporate power, about global warming, AIDs (in Africa or anywhere else), about the history of anything. Nothing about a struggle that's larger than the scope of own heads, or our own families. (Einstein + The Angels by Laura Harrington did offer some sort of post-apocalyptic vision, but the nature of the apocalypse itself was vague).

I'm not saying that I want diatribe after diatribe, and I understand that theatre works in the interpersonal relationships between human beings on stage. However, nine hours without any modern political shout or protest, or hell, even a slight clearing of a playwright's artistic throat is chilling. Theatre has the power to speak to the human AND human political condition, the state of our world. If theatre fails to use that power, it will weaken and become more irrelevant.

I hope that in next year's Marathon, we'll hear some voices who have something to say about the state of the world in which we live.

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