Stands Alone

I have to confess, this was a truly odd collection of material. The first half consists of a collection of storytelling, mostly focusing on the teller’s struggles with gay identity. This took me a while to warm up to — his persona is intensely theatrical, in a way that I found initally off-putting — but he has a truly relaxed, genuine relationship with the audience that rapidly won me over. Strangely enough, the story of his I found the most engaging wasn’t really a story at all, but recounting a series of distracted musings that took place while smoking weed — there was something really, well, real, about his ability to evoke that.

The second half was readings from a script by the author, and, well — at the risk of getting caught in the middle of an artistic argument, I’m going to go into a bit more detail. It’s an excerpt from a script that the playwright wrote for Off-Leash Area, specifically for their production of Border Crossings. She seemed to feel that her script had been done something of an injustice, in light of the numerous changes that had been made.

Now, I was actually — however briefly — a part of the rehearsal process for this show, having observed at least one, as well as having seen initial drafts of the script. And my impression at the time was that the cast was struggling a great deal against the text, which I wasn’t terribly enamored of. The playwright’s interpretation really didn’t do much to battle this original impression.

See — she opened by reading an excerpt, which was reasonably engaging. But there’s a great difference between writing text to be *read* to an audience, and writing text to be performed by a body of actors. The characters she wrote have a tendency of continually narrating their actions and thoughts as they take place. The text doesn’t allow the actors room to perform, to indicate emotional shifts through thought, gesture, expression — everything is laid out by the text itself in a way that often feels jarring and artificial. Ultimately, the effect that’s achieved is the sense that the characters are narrating a set of ideas, rather than being able to simply express themselves as characters. There isn’t a sense of faith in either the performers or the medium, and that’s frustrating for me as someone sitting in the audience.

Normally, I’m very defensive of the role of the writer — but this is a case in which the performers who altered the text were, I think, in the right to do so. The ideas contained in it were interesting enough — but the text, as written, simply isn’t performable as theatre.

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