Ramblings: On sitting through a play that isn’t working

I always hold out hope. I do. The inorganic revelations? The inconsistent character traits? The shifting focus? The line that the author must have been so proud of when putting it on paper that he or she couldn’t bear to cut it? The clichés? Somehow, in the time remaining before blackout, these will be revealed as deliberate choices.

They will, won’t they? Because once I stop believing in a playwright’s power to redeem a play, I fear I’ll start believing that reviewing new theater is a chore. And I don’t want to ever believe that. Sometimes pity starts to take over and wonder about what it must be like for actors to live with the piece for weeks—to give their all when the writer isn’t holding up the other end of the bargain.

Then again, maybe the actors are partly—or completely—to blame. But that’s impossible. Because there’s a director. And unless the director has skipped town and the run is nearly over and the stage manager has been arrested on unrelated charges, then someone should have brought the actors back to a place where they aren’t derailing a good script. Sometimes the script itself—or an imaginary construct of the script—pops into my mind. I find myself trying to imagine the play on paper, devoid of actor input, as if seeing the architectural plans for the play will somehow reveal whether or not the builders and decorators just got sloppy.

But that takes me out of the play and I don’t want to be out of the play until I leave the theater. I want to be in the play. Lost. But it’s not working and so I work my way around it, trying to find entrance. Maybe if I push on the irony door? Nope. Hope about going through the “It’s just a lark” window.

No, that one’s boarded up. Hmmmm. Maybe I missed something in the beginning. I replay those moments in my head. Please, give me something here. I want the playwright to be working as hard as I feel I am. But that’s unfair. I know the playwright worked hard. As have the actors, designers, and directors. But that work isn’t working. For me. And I can feel my eyebrow muscles tighten and I’m fighting the temptation to close my eyes or squint to try to read the bios in the program and I wonder how visible I am to others in the theater, especially if I’m in an arena set up and I yearn for the days of watches instead of cell phones because you didn’t have to turn off a watch and so checking the time was an option.

Not that it could speed things up or anything. But I’m hoping. It’s been a long time since I left a play at intermission and never have, except for an illness, since writing about the arts became a full-time profession.

But more and more plays don’t have an intermission which may be a defense mechanism to keep us in our place until the end and maybe I should unwrap that piece of candy and come on, playwright, you can do this. You can make it all come together. You can find the moment that is going to make me feel guilty for everything I thought about your easy choices, your undeveloped moments, your…really? You’re going to end there?


  1. I love your rumination on keeping up hope while you watch a play missing the marks. Yeah, is it the armature? director? actors? Sad when it’s the actors. So many of us can relate to your musings. Thanks.

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