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What Theater About Theater Says About Theater

So much theater about theater has opened on Broadway in the last few weeks that it feels like a declaration of surrender – let’s just cater to the (ever-shrinking) in-crowd –  as I write in my latest piece for Howlround, which looks at four productions: “The Country House” (the only new play in the group), “It’s Only A Play,” and “The Real Thing,” as well as a recent presentation of Pirandello’s “Six Characters In Search of An Author” at BAM.

Here are some of the pronouncements and observations about theater from those shows:

From The Country House:
There are no Broadway stars, dear. Not anymore. Oh, there
are stars on Broadway but they’re not Broadway stars. In the old days, every season there’d be the new Gerry Page play, or the new Julie Harris. They were Broadway stars. Those days are over. I was born in the wrong era, I’m afraid.

I’m a throwback. Isn’t that awful? To live long enough to
be a throwback? A leading lady without a stage. My audience – the matinee ladies and their poor husbands – is dead or dying or going deaf. And I fear I’m not far behind.

There are no real producers anymore. People with vision.
And balls.

The grandiosity of theater people who have convinced themselves that what they do is of a higher order than all other forms of make-believe! What an odd pursuit, when you stop to think about it: Grown people shouting in rooms missing a fourth wall?

Back in Williamstown [theater festival], right on schedule, where all ambivalent successful actors come for absolution….Return to their roots, remind themselves why they got into this business in the first place, work their asses off – for nothing – then fly home to Hollywood, cleansed and virtuous. The Williamstown Cure: Better than a high colonic!

From It’s Only A Play:

Anyone can come up with a tax loss. It
takes a very special maniac to produce a play.

The theater has become the Statue of Liberty for movie actors: Give us your tired, your poor, your washed up, your strung out.

Bless all critics who are really failed
playwrights or actors and who become critics out of desperation but who mean well and are only trying to uphold the standards of the theatre without knowing how truly hard it is to write a play. Failing that, they become agents.

I wanted to be in the theater so no one would ever call me “sir”. We like
“darling” or “Honey” or “angel” or “Pussycat” or “cupcake” or “love” or “lamb” or “petal.”

I hate theater people. Kiss, kiss, kiss. Darling, darling, darling. I don’t like being kissed, especially by men I don’t know and don’t care to. Everybody’s darling this, darling that. Doesn’t anybody have a fucking name?

It depends on us to remind this city that there is more to Broadway than guest appearances or special effects and revivals or another play from London or another Disney movie made live. We are an original American play. We must make that count for something.

We’ve let Broadway stop mattering and handed it over to the Brits and the movie-to-musical franchises lock, stock and barrel. It’s our fault, not theirs. Nature abhors a vacuum and they rushed right in. We all got so greedy. The theatre became a business to make a million when it should be a place to talk to one another in a mutual dialogue between stage and audience about what it means to be alive in this country in the first decades of the New Century.

God punishes people who do plays on
Broadway. He punishes them good.

That’s why He invented regional theater

From The Real Thing
What an ego trip! Having all the words to come back with just as you need them. That’s the difference between plays and real life- thinking time. You don’t really think that if Henry caught me out with a lover, he’d sit around being witty about Rembrandt place mats? Like hell he would. He’d come apart like pick-a- sticks. His sentence structure would go to pot, closely followed by his sphincter.

This thing here [a cricket club], which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It’s for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you’ve done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly… What we’re trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might… travel.
(Henry then picks up the first-time playwright’s script_
Now, what we’ve got here is of wood of roughly the same trying to be a cricket bat,
you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting “Ouch!” With your hands stuck into your armpits

From Six Characters in Search of An Author
We are reduced to staging works by Pirandello. To those who understand them, bravo. Plays written to prevent actors, critics and audiences from enjoying them.

For you and your actors, it’s just some kind of game
A game? We aren’t children here. We play seriously.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, but what to you is an illusion is that which is created. But we have no other reality.

Fiction! Reality! The devil with you all. Lights!

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About New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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