I recently received a meme on one of my digital social platforms. It read:
“Theaters in 2020: We take this time to reflect and remember why we make art and we can’t wait to tell important stories when the curtain rises again.
Theaters in 2021: We are so excited to announce GREASE as our first show to reopen our theater.”
It’s kind of hard not to laugh or to at least offer a wry smile at the apparent hypocrisy of the stated goal of theater as art until it is faced with the reality of the commercial aspects of theater.
At this moment in time there’s also a lot of truth in the meme. Today, many artistic directors are struggling with programming choices that will best serve their audiences. Many believe today’s audiences want to go to theater to relax and forget not only the harsh realities of the past fifteen months, but any depressing social issue that adds tension to an already uncertain future.
Then there are those theater companies who see their mission as addressing social reality. They are convinced theater is an art form that should inform and shape minds. They are convinced theater cannot ignore the social problems that fester within our society.
This week, as live theater slowly begins to return to the area, both options are available. On Thursday, both Curtain Call Theatre in Latham and Troy Foundry Theatre in Troy are offering live productions. Each will play to limited audiences with health safeguards in place.
Curtain Call is performing inside at their theater at 1 Jeanne Jugan Lane and Troy Foundry is working outside in an alley next to the Trojan Hotel, 41 3rd Street in Troy. Curtain Call’s show plays to June 13, while Troy Foundry closes on May 30.
The location for each play, in terms of comfort, is symbolic of the differences in the material. One is a light-hearted look at middle class America in the latter half of the 20th century. The other is an esoteric examination of the displaced lives of minorities in the first half of the 21st century.
Curtain Call is producing “At Wit’s End,” a play about the life and writings of Erma Bombeck . Bombeck wrote her humorous columns about suburban home life from 1965-1996. She was carried by over 900 papers and her wise and funny observations endeared her to middle America.
Troy Foundry is offering the world premiere of “A Deed Without A Name.” It is a play about the displaced in our society. The play centers about three females of color who are in separate 4 ft. by 8 ft. white boxes, which are placed upright. Though the audience can see them, they cannot see each other. As they exist side by side, they muse upon past monumental events in their lives. Clearly, the symbolism of three women of color invisible to each other while trapped by a white restraint suggests what problems the play is addressing.
Without making a judgment on the value of either, you could say that together the plays are an examination of white privilege from two perspectives - those who have it, and those who don’t.
However, no matter how true that is, it is an over-simplification. Really, it’s about defining what entertainment means in an individual’s life. The two plays offer a choice between light-hearted and serious. It doesn’t mean that choosing to laugh in your free time indicates that you don’t care about race and its relationship to poverty. And, is going to a play about social oppression without it moving you to action little more than conscience soothing?
Each work has value. Indeed, it’s a danger to think that serious theater is the only “good” theater. Laughter is cathartic and if you find relief in a theater experience, you should be grateful.
Indeed, we should all be grateful that as live theater starts to return, we have such excellent and diverse choices.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.