Thursday, 26 June 2014

When a Play isn't a Play

Being from Bama.....plays (of the theater type) are a curious thing for me.  For some ninth grade project, the teacher engaged the class into a rough fifteen minute play....which I felt like a 500-pound gorilla at a disco.  In the tenth grade, another English teacher introduced the class to Shakespeare....strictly for inside the classroom, and I came to question this 1600's English usage (it just didn't make any sense for southern kids to recite like this).  Finally, around the twelfth grade, Our Town was introduced as a in-class project, which got me a bit more interested.  It was boring, but it had something worth watching.

Throughout the years, I've kinda avoided going to a theater to watch a play.  It's different when you can watch a play on to get up and stretch at different times.  Plays aren't like movies with intense interest built into scenes....plays are subtle in terms of words and actions the right moment.  You can see the shifty eyes.....the twist and turn of secondary characters.....and note a plot change that you didn't expect.

This week, I noted that well known play-writer David Mamet got all hyped up over one of his plays which had been designed by some group in a very different manner.  He'd written a nifty play that takes a college professor through a major stumble in he's accused of sexual harassment by some student gal.  It's a false accusation, but Oleanna (the play) takes you through the woes and sorrows of this professor.

In this case, the play company (a minor group) had decided to twist this around, and use a male student accusing the professor of sexual harassment.  Yeah, a gay twist of sort.

The play showed for one evening and Mamet sent a message of "halt and stop".....citing the change of genders was unacceptable and changed the whole meaning of the play that he wrote.

Redefining a play has been a big deal over the past few decades.  Folks from the 1940s didn't ever change a play was....what it was.  Today, you could take Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and turn into a play about two transexual folks, or two lesbians....just to do something different.  No bad feelings or such.....just to be different.

Course, if I stepped in to do the Romeo and Juliet script with southern accents, Pabst-Blue-Ribbon beer, and a trailer park setting.....the play-crowd would get all disturbed and say it just wasn't right.

I suspect if I took "Our Town" and rebuilt it to be inner-city Chicago....that would disturb the play-crowd just as well.

So, I'm back to the 500-pound guerrilla feeling.  This is stuff that I ought not care much about, but being a 500-pound gorilla.....I'd just like to stand there and observe.  Sometimes, a play isn't so much about a literally moment, as it is about what's going to be seen and perceived.  Good versus evil.  Idiots versus brilliance.  Same-old-same-old versus being different.  It's all in the story.

1 comment:

Politics Alabama said...

Being involved in the local theatrical scene, I can tell you why modifying that play is a big deal but modifying Shakespeare isn't. It's all about copyright.

When a theatre buys the rights to perform a play, one of the codicils is that they can make minor changes (such as eliminating f-words, and the like), but the play must be performed as written. If the gender of a character doesn't matter to the play, that is often noted in the script.

If a theatre ignores all this and substantially changes the play, being prevented from performing it is the least of possible consequences.

All that said, Shakespeare is different because all of his plays are "public domain". That means nobody owns the rights to them, and anybody can perform them and do anything they like. There are no performance rights to purchase. This is one reason you see so many remakes of movies and plays based upon Shakespeare's plays.

So though you didn't realize it, there are underlying reasons for the drama surrounding the play you are talking about, and those reasons revolve around legal issues as much as theatrical choices.

Just putting in my two cents.