June 24, 2011 Comments Off on Alien she
Joseph and I finished our season of theater-going last night at The House of Blue Leaves, starring Ben Stiller, Edie Falco, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Two out of three were excellent, and Jennifer Jason Leigh was very good when she projected instead of swallowed her words. During the first act, it was easy to empathize with each of the three characters, who take turns being sad, beautiful, ugly, and pathetic. But what makes the play so unbearable during the first half is not the story or the honesty which Falco and Stiller bring to their roles, it is the audience’s response to such an unflinching portrait of mental illness. Listening to people around me laughing at the characters frightened me and made a strong case for watching movies through Netflix. Many times the characters turned and spoke to the audience, as if we were part of the conversation, but this only seemed to make the audience more willing to behave badly. What were they taking away from the play? What would they talk about on the train ride home? Why bother? I fantasized about standing up and yelling at the audience to shut up. Couldn’t they see their own cruelty? Why don’t audience members ever stand up for the play? It would be in the newspaper, I’d be ushered out of the theater by security, but so what? Why be complacent? Humor is a strange thing and last night, the audience’s misplaced sense of humor felt violent. I’d have skipped the play instead of experiencing the familiar isolation from those around me.
Then the second act began and things became utterly confusing. I was no longer watching a play where the writer, John Guare could bear his own subject matter. It was as if he didn’t know what to do with the situation he created and turned to the easiest and quickest route out of the theater: slapstick. Not only could the audience not handle the severity of the play, neither could the writer who chose to abandon ship with quick gag jokes and unconsidered punch lines. Ben Stiller, Edie Falco, and Christopher Abbott, who played their son carried the play, but there was no saving the second act. The last moments of the play are heart-breaking and bring back the honesty of the first act, but it’s the middle part that made me feel like giving up on the experience of being part of an audience. I am not a team player.
In the middle of the second act, one of the characters addresses this very issue: “Do you know what the greatest talent in the world is? To be an audience.” I guess I’m a long way off from being talented. I can live with that as long as I don’t subject myself to live theater on a regular basis.