I’m a child of television. I recall the excitement when the state-run broadcasting company in my country started a second channel. The medium still has a hold on me, though I watch it on my computer more than on a television set these days. But I also come from a region that was once rich in the theater tradition. With government support dying out and patrons abandoning it for the glitter of Hindi cinema, however, that tradition has waned.
In New York, theater appears to be alive and breaking a leg, which is wonderful for both artists and viewers, albeit often a bit rough on the latter’s wallets. Between this summer and fall, I’ve seen several productions, starting with a rough (but relatively inexpensive) Master Builder at Brooklyn’s BAM (starring John Turturro), an enjoyable, polished (and free) Comedy of Errors at the Delacorte in Central Park, an abbreviated, less polished (also free) Richard the Third (also in Central Park), and an enjoyable musical staged in the New York Musical Theater festival by a Midwestern friend.
My fall theater “season” began with Tennessee Williams’s Two-Character Play at the New World Stages theater, courtesy of a ticket windfall from a friend of a friend. Sadly, the production left a lot to be desired, despite the typical screwy family dynamics that I usually love in Williams’s work. And speaking of screwy family dynamics, I then saw Craig, Daniel Craig, on Broadway at the Barrymore in Pinter’s Betrayal. At $67, these tickets were probably the steepest I have bought (despite the nosebleed seats) because I got them as soon as they went on sale (while the later prices were reputedly as high as $423). Was I shaken and stirred? Well, I enjoyed the play’s reverse chronological structure and the sets, but the acting (from my distant seat) felt a bit wooden. Mr. Craig did wear those trousers he does in Casino Royale, however…
The next one up was Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan’s Waiting for Godot, a production that had played to great reviews in London a few years ago. These tickets weren’t cheap either but how often does one get to see Captain Picard/Prof. X and Gandalf/Magneto declaiming Beckett live?
At three hours run-time though, the waiting got a bit much, despite Sir Ian’s superb body language and Sir Pat’s able company. Yet I loved their performances enough that in spite of my promise to myself that the last production I would see this fall would be the Shakespeare’s Globe Twelfth Night,
I ended up buying tickets to see Stewart and McKellan in No Man’s Land on the same stage at the Cort. (This time, a friend went and bought tickets in person at the box office, something I really must remember to do so that I don’t end up paying nonsensical online fees.)
If Twelfth Night at the Belasco was unevenly charming, its all male-cast including a marvelously femme Mark Rylance and a pompous Stephen Fry,
No Man’s Land was absorbing—beautifully blocked, staged, and performed.
While televised or recorded media continues to be my primary mode of entertainment, the last six months have reminded me why live theater has lasted for millennia. The nakedness of emotion in the face and body of a human being in touching distance, and the pity, horror, joy, and laughter this can invoke in an audience—how can any other form ever achieve its like?