“I know it’s a theatre. I know it’s a stage.” – Victor, House
Yesterday I saw Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s play House over at Studio 210 and had a slightly-universe-rocking experience. I felt moved, affected deeply – at times in ways I could put my finger on and at times in ways that still escape my conscious understanding.
Since I’ve been here at BU I’ve been constantly redefining my idea of what theatre is, and especially what GOOD theatre is. I’ve come to a place where I can read Mac Wellman’s Antigone and find it moving. I can draw meaning from it’s intentional chaos. I’ve come to enjoy post-modern dance and am generally a good little liberal theatre student.
So why did House rock me so? It struck me at once as avant-garde and utterly traditional.
Traditional – total unity of time, place and action. Victor is a clearly delineated character who operates via realistic psychological processes. Even when he takes flights of fancy, they seem to come from a certain internal logic. His world, if not EXACTLY ours, is very close. He is a bit of a Willy Loman – the dysfunctional modern everyman, chewed by the world. He is the protagonist, the projection screen for the audience’s own neuroses.
And in other ways the production is near avant-garde – especially in its meta-theatricality. The fourth wall is obliterated, and the theatre is utterly undecorated except for the audience’s seating and a few theatrical lights. Like the post-modern dancers, it strips away much of the theatricality of theatre to look at what is underneath. As I watched the performance I became more and more aware of my own assumptions walking into a theatre (even with all the stripping away that has happened at BU!)
The production was brutally simple and performed, directed and designed with such razor-like attention that every aspect felt necessary. Never did anything happen that felt unjustified. The power of the piece was in that it was a story told simply.
And why not? Simplicity! Human truth! Humor! These things don’t need huge budgets or spectacle or anything, really, apart from people committed to telling a story truthfully. Once Victor admitted that he knew it was a theatre, a permission was given. Permission to listen. To feel, or not to feel.
It is easy in the exploration of the theatrical illusion for me to forget that it’s okay to just be a storyteller. To just tell stories and trust that the meeting of human soul with human soul will simply, with no fanfare, inspire terror and pity.
So this is today’s manifesto. Tomorrow a different one, maybe, but this for now. Simplicity, truth, admission of pain and pleasure, generosity, and humor. Occam’s Razor stripping away all the artifice, all but exactly what is necessary. Let us speak truth, and trust that truth.