Intimacy in High Definition

I’ve been very frustrated the past couple of weeks. Even though there has been a lot going on -- end of school-year events, a primary election, prepping for our talkback with Michael Goldberg, etc. -- I found myself the recipient of an amazing gift: an unscheduled Saturday night!

Once this became clear, I thought, “cool -- now I can finally go see TOPDOG/UNDERDOG!” I had been hoping to get out to see the show ever since it opened. But, much to my dismay, the show didn’t have a Saturday night performance. Phooey.

Then, to my surprise and delight, a similar situation happened this past Thursday: kids off on their own, spouse otherwise engaged -- free night! Checked the website -- no TD/UD performance! Grrr.

Forced to look for alternatives, I checked around for other theater possibilities. There was no Thursday performance at the Mill and no tickets whatsoever for RTP’s A CHORUS LINE. Feh.

So this was the week that I came face-to-face with one of the ways theater suffers in comparison to movies and TV: it is often infuriatingly time-restricted. The show you want to see doesn’t have a performance when you can see it, a really popular show sells out and you can’t see it, or you don’t hear someone talking about how a certain show is a “must see” until it’s already closed.

I used to turn my nose up in reaction to services like BroadwayHD, thinking that the “live” part was a key component of “live” theater. But lately, I’m seriously considering whether such a subscription could fit into my budget.

At the same time, I did manage to see a show that typifies everything that is incredible about “live” theater, TheatreLAB’s production of GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES. I could wax eloquent about the heartbreaking performance by Jeffrey Cole, the stunning and sympathetic portrayal by Rachel Rose Gilmour or the sensitive direction by Melissa Rayford. But the one slice of the live performance that can’t really be captured in words was the way the two actors interacted between the scenes.

In a show that had both actors figuratively slicing open their veins on stage, the care and affection they showed for each other in transition from one gripping scene to the next was truly lovely. While it could have been as performative as the actual onstage action, it sure seemed genuine. And I don’t know if there is any camera anywhere that could have caught those interactions in definition high enough to transmit how touching and affecting they were.

In my mind, that kind of intimacy is essential to the success of theater and something that can’t really be replicated in any other medium. Theater provides a window into the best and worst moments of a character’s life in a uniquely personal way. Our production of PRELUDES is a great example: the whole show is essentially a therapy session, an interlude that in its essential nature is not meant to be witnessed by anyone else.

Live theater can’t compete with movies or TV on ease-of-use or availability. But it hurdles far above and beyond other mediums in terms of exposing the human condition in all of its horror and wonder in a particularly intimate way. It can be a pain scheduling-wise, but it’s a pain that is eminently worth it.

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