The Theatre (capital letter intentional) is not my milieu. In Hamburg (location of primo German theater houses), I once walked out during the intermission of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. I couldn’t bear to watch those women just languishing around on daybeds any more. I frequently find live theater too stilted or too overblown or too “too” (as my mother would say) in a way I can’t always put my finger on. And then there is my tendency to want to analyze what I’m seeing or reading. Maybe theater moves to fast for my ability to analyze narrative? Even when I read dramas, though, I frequently feel like I’m missing some larger point that the playwright incorporated.
I’m beginning to adjust my views. We watched the HBO version of Kushner’s Angels in America earlier this week and I pondered a bit the ways in which the screenplay author Kushner took the playwright Kushner’s text and adapted it for the screen. He retained so many obviously theatrical elements in the film version–I could just see the angels on wires above the stage in my mind’s eye–and that, in turn, got me to thinking about what makes drama drama and film film.
The Angel saying: “I, I, I, I am the Continental Principality” sounded, to my ears, like some sort of code. A new jargon for a novel literary or dramatic theory. All those syllables–it must mean something. . . .mysterious. So I kept watching, keeping my eyes peeled for the theme, the moment, that would tie the whole business together and explain to me what the hell a principality was and why she wanted Prior to slow down, stop moving forward. So I was rather surprised when the theme, the message, the moment turned out to be: don’t ever stop moving forward; keep progress alive; don’t accept the status quo. Of course I’m willing to concede to others out there more familiar with the work than I am that there is a lot more going on in the film (Jewish male identity could be its own dissertation here, I’m thinking)–but progress is a key issue in the piece.
After I was done saying: “is that all? is it that obvious?” it occured to me that drama–a genre written for live performance on a stage in front of an audience with a limited attention span–likely cannot afford complex theoretical narrative within the work itself (it can be informed by complex theory, of course, but is not likely to reproduce complex ideas in a narrative/dialogic way on stage) simply because it moves to fast for the audience to follow such a dialog/monolog/etc. The “too much” of drama that occasionally irritates me might just be the visual representation of the complex issues in the drama that don’t have space in the dialog.
In other words: maybe I haven’t been missing something because I’m too slow. Perhaps I’ve missed things because I haven’t been willing to integrate the visual with the narrative to form a complex picture of what is going on in the work. Angels in America totally blew me away. Knocked my socks off. It’s amazing–well acted, well directed, clever as all hell–and maybe changed the way I look at theater by being a little bit of theater brought to the silver screen.