What I Expect From Theatre...

Jack Rushen

  • Connecticut Columnist

Okay, I know I’m going to come across as somewhat of a snob, but I’m going to lay it out from my perspective, what I expect when I sit down in a theater and anticipate a “transcending” experience. A moving experience. An experience that is not going to make me wish I could have two hours of my life back. 

Ninety-nine percent of the time, plays don’t reach that level for me.   

First, don’t bore me. I didn’t come to the theater so I can stare at my watch. I can see it fine during the other twenty-two hours of the day, thank you.  Writer’s, don’t think you are clever and try and charm me with words, and not have any action, conflict, or compelling story-line. (thank you Mr. Stoppard). I know there are certain people who go to the theater for a slow moving, non-emotional experience just because reviews praise it (you simply must see this five hour long version of Oedipus!). I have been to many performances where people sit, look at their watches, applaud politely, and think they are at a “wonderful cultural event.” Bravo! Engage me…make me feel something…let me identify so well with a character that I’m moved to laughter or tears.  

Most classical theatre doesn’t do it for me, either. Chekov, Shakespeare, or Strindberg, unless done very well, again have me looking at my watch, hoping the hands move faster.  

Stunning theater is hard to come by these days. Plays are strange, and theaters expect me to be involved in a surreal play about bisexual space travelers turning into birds that have endless monologues about life and death. Beckett boars the living crap out of me. I went to see a production of “Happy Days” a while back and half of the audience left at intermission, so it’s not just me. We owe it to an audience to give them a fascinating experience. Make them feel exhilarated, as if they just stepped off a roller coaster instead of taking a slow ride around playland in the caboose of a slow moving train. 

What kind of theatre excites me?  A well written play about real people in real situations…ALL MY SONS, 4000 MILES, anything by Jeffrey Hatcher, Donald Marguiles, or Sarah Ruhl. A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE, or THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. I saw a production of RED at the Westport Country Playhouse that blew me away. I was the first one standing at the curtain call. I wasn’t bored, it didn’t drag, I didn’t “check out” and think about my grocery list. I was with it from the beginning. I wish more people would write that way. ART, on the double bill was incredibly boring.  

Don’t experiment on me. I’m not a rat in a lab. Show me slick, well-written plays that transport me into another place and time by conflict, characters, and story. THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE…still relevant today as it was in the 1880’s. Ibsen knew how to keep and audience interested. 

There is a wealth of good plays out there, and I’ll be scratching my head when I sit at a professional regional theater and witness a play that seems like a first draft. It happens. It seems that theaters don’t take enough time to really evaluate plays. In a regular season of six plays in a LORT theater, maybe one, on the average, will be worth watching. 

So be careful what you buy a ticket for. You can waste your money and it goes right into their pocket anyway.  Theaters are always crying poor. Maybe if they hit a bullseye more often, people would have faith in supporting them. 

Just my opinion, but I think I’m right. 

Snobbery ends right here folks. Now go out and see a good production of a good play. 

Photo: Joan Marcus