Monday, October 5, 2009

Mister Roberts

Larry took me to see the New Rep's version of this over the weekend. This was the first half of a birthday present. The second half will be the same theater's version of Speed The Plow.

How was it? Hard to say. The audience was deathly quiet, not a sound in the house. How extremely awkward it is to watch a bit of camp (a row of sailors looking through binoculars out into the audience, talking about and reacting to the naked women they're spying on) while the entire audience just sits and frowns at them. Not a whisper of indulgent laughter. Not even a cough. On one hand I wanted to react to the complexity of the scene. Five guys talking in turn, not stepping on each other's lines, all of it musical and wildly precise in terms of timing. And they're not looking at each other at all. It was amazing, but not a joke on which I cared to join in.

As a culture we may have outgrown campy humor pieces about war. It's supposed to be funny and touching as well. And it's about a man on the sidelines of war who really wants to be in the thick of it. An early reviewer suggested that the premise of the play is dated and I resisted this, but on second thought, it just might be true. What's interesting about the play for me was the fact that it started out as a series of short stories. Then was a Tony award-winning play, and then a highly successful movie--fifty years ago. There would be difficulties in staging something that started out as a series of episodes, trying to string them together into a dramatic arc at which something real is at stake very early on. It didn't happen, and that's the fault of no one involved in the current production. I wonder that audiences didn't notice the play's slow start before now.

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