The "Other" Nutcracker, Part 2 « PREV | NEXT »: Ideas Have Consequences

December 14, 2010

Mistakes Were Made

Right now, at the Barrow Street Theatre in lower Manhattan, is a great little play called Mistakes Were Made that was imported from A Red Orchid Theatre in Chicago.  Even though The New Yorker gave it a positive capsule write-up, it is apparently not selling well, so tickets are available at half-price on the TDF site, which is why I ended up going to a matinee last Sunday.  When I emerged from the theater after 95 intermission-less minutes, I had that exhilarated feeling you only get from live theater, and from no other art form, however superbly executed--the feeling that you have been right there when something excitingly risky and wonderful and scary and human took place before your very eyes and ears.

I don't want to give away the plot or the various clever devices.  Let me just say that the central performance by Michael Shannon (who briefly appeared as the Stage Manager in last year's terrific production of Our Town at the same location) is the kind of thing that makes going to the theater worth it.  And he could only have given this performance in a theater the size of the Barrow, which seats somewhere between 100 and 200 people.  That's not only because the play itself (beautifully devised by Craig Wright and directed with enormous intelligence by Dexter Bullard) is in part about theater-size, but also because Shannon's delivery--ranging all the way from screaming rages emitted at the top of his lungs to quiet murmurings with his back turned to the audience--could only be properly heard and felt in a theater this size. 

A big part of the reason that Broadway consistently stinks is that no good play is meant to be performed in a venue that seats big crowds.  Theater just can't make it as a big-money proposition (that, too, is partly what this play is about), especially if it is to retain any connection with life as we know it (ditto).  So our only recourse is marvelous little plays like this, cultivated in great theater towns like Chicago and then brought to us intact, which means emphatically not given the Trojan-horse gift of a Broadway production (as, for instance, A Steady Rain was last year, to its tremendous detriment).  The Red Orchid Theatre, according to its own press information, "maintains the conviction that theatre is potentially the greatest sustenance for the human spirit."  That this principle can coexist with, and indeed reinforce, the horrifyingly dark, grotesquely funny vision that Mistakes Were Made conveys is just one of the reasons that live theater will continue to survive in small downtown venues, no matter what mistakes get made elsewhere.
December 14, 2010 9:05 AM | | Comments (0)

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