Friday, March 16, 2012

Lady from Dubuque (NYC)

I am so far behind guys, sorry, look for lots of blog posts in the next few days. But let me start with this one.

So first some thoughts. I have a love hate relationship with Albee’s work. By that I mean some of it is REALLY good and I love it (like The Goat), while some of it I am not so fond of (like Finding the Sun). I knew nothing about Lady from Dubuque, and so I was hoping it would be in group 1. And it was!

The show itself is about a woman with a terminal and painful disease at what is probably the end of her days. Albee is in top form at one of the things he does best, biting wit in party scenes. His script is bitingly funny. What I love about Albee is his ability to write mean characters with good hearts – real people. I do not know a single real person who does not have the ability to be utterly selfish and horribly mean – sometimes on purpose, sometimes lashing out, sometimes just because. And when Albee is done well, as Signature has done in this production, you never lose sight of the fact that these characters care, and love, and make mistakes. Sometimes you hate them. Sometimes you feel sorry for them. Sometimes you want to give them a hug. Sometimes you want to do all of that at once.

The cast does an amazing job on the pacing as well. Technically, this show is like a space rocket – starting at 100 miles and hour and not slowing down. And these actors did a great job at keeping up, no, not just keeping up, but setting the break necked pace. Why is this important? Because without this internal sense of pacing, these characters would not be the ones written.

I spent a lot of time in my last blog talking about playing the character that is written. That is one of the key factors that made this production of Lady of Dubuque so good. They played them as they were written, in all the extremes of each character, the good and the bad. The actors made no judgment calls and pulled no punches; they just were. And, as we all, know is a huge pet peeve of mine, they did it in a theatrical real way, not in a naturalistic way. There were plenty of moments of direct audience contact and acknowledgement – they never once forgot they were on stage in front of us, and therefore we never once tried to pretend that it wasn’t a play.

This was brilliant, especially considering the following lines spoken by the character Elizabeth: In the outskirts of Dubuque, on the farm, when I was growing up – back there, back then – I learned, with all the pigs and chickens and the endless sameness everywhere you looked, or thought, back there I learned – though I doubt I knew I was learning it – that all the values were relative save one… ‘Who am I?’ All the rest semantics – liberty, dignity possession. There is only one that matters: ‘Who am I?”

I am not much for blogging about “theme”, partially because I believe that is too scholarly and not necessarily the point of theatre – theatre being experiential not necessarily heady. However, I think it important to mention the amount of time “Who am I?” or “Who are you?” is asked in this show. (The answer is a lot, I don’t have a number.) The brilliance of the theatrical realism of this show lies in that question – because suddenly the question isn’t just directed to the living room on stage, but to the audience.

I wrote about Hurt Village “I guess I want to start with this – good plays stick with you for a long time. Excellent plays change the way you think, or remind you why it is you think something you already think. Hurt Village is an excellent play.”

Lady from Dubuque is too, in a different way from Hurt Village, but a great play all the same. This play makes you think about yourself, and what you think about yourself and others. “Who am I?” Am I the person I want to be?

Art, good art, puts you in touch with a part of yourself you would rather not look at on a day to day basis. Theatre has a special place in that because the art of theatre is already people. What is paint and clay in the visual arts is blood and bone in theatre. We are already one step closer to the questions because our medium is humanity. Not only is it humanity, but also it is humanity RIGHT NOW. The medium lives in the same room you are in, breathes the same air you are breathing. There is a danger in live performance, the danger of not really knowing what will happen moment to moment. And that danger brings us back to the humanity of it. Because there is the same danger in living. I think that theatre is at its best when it reminds us of these things. And I think Lady from Dubuque did an excellent job at that reminder.

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