Neil Patrick Harris hosting the Tony Awards for the fourth time? Yeah, that was pretty much perfect. As ever, he brought the funny and the swagger, with his opening number packing in practically every show on Broadway and seriously bringing down the house. I counted 3 HIMYM references in the first 5 minutes.
It was as interesting contrast, the idea of Broadway and the Tony’s becoming “bigger”, while shining the spotlight on the many, many, many child performers absolutely killing it on stage right now. Why, the medley from MATILDA had the intensity of SPRING AWAKENING with its “Revolting children, living in revolting times, singing revolting songs, using revolting rhymes. We’ll be revolting children ’til our revolting’s done.”
NPH was right to point out that the Tony Awards is not just a long commercial for NYC or simply a Cliffs Notes of what to see, it is an annual moment of inspiration for youths, for kids, for children. It’s a celebration of the joy that can be found in a musical, of the truth that can be found in a play, of the fun that can be had in putting on a show.
Much of what goes on here at the young and swashbuckling STATE LINES can be viewed through the lens of nostalgia. We’re all trying to figure out this “growing up” thing. We’re sorting out our culture and our ideals. We’re attempting to make sense of our hopes and dreams in the context of the harsh reality around us. For me, theatre has always been a part of that sense-making. Also, much like STATE LINES, theatre is for the people and by the people.
Sure, the Tony’s heaps praise on the most extravagant elements of the theatre community. But, there is stunningly good acting occurring nearly every night in your town. In New York itself, the most amazing theatre is not necessarily on Broadway. How would you like to see a roof-top performance of MACBETH or a staging of THE TEMPEST under the shadow of a Lighthouse? Check and check.
Theatre brings life to real people and real people bring life to the theatre. There is a reason why Joss Whedon’s idea of a refreshing vacation between blockbusters was to stage MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at his house and shoot it in black and white. There is a reason a play is called a play. It’s fun and invigorating, both to watch and to perform.
In her acceptance speech, Judith Light (Featured Actress in a Play Tony Winner) mentioned the “discipline, devotion and dedication” found in the theatre community. It’s that work, that deep commitment to getting it right, that fidelity to the playwright’s words, which sets theatre apart from film and television.
It was interesting and hilarious to see great actors from 3 cancelled NBC shows reminding the world of their chops on CBS. The actors we love to watch on-screen make us rethink everything we think we know after seeing them perform in-person. Leading Actor Tony Winner, Tracy Letts said it best: “We are the ones who say it to their faces.”
I think the theme of the night was childhood. After all, most of us enter the theatre as kids, whether in some school play or on a trip to see our first show. Best Play Tony Winner, Christopher Durang mentioned that he wrote his first play in the 2nd grade. Leading Actor in a Musical Tony Winner, Billy Porter said that watching the Tony’s when he was 11 was a transformative experience. Our youth matters and the theatre is a terrific place to make sense of it.
In the Tampa Bay area, we’re lucky to have exceptional playhouses like Jobsite Theater and American Stage. If you look around, I’m sure you’ll find equally professional companies in your area. At the very least, there is alway community theatre…or dinner theatre…or even high school theatre. Maybe that is actually the best place to start your audience experience after all. Of course, you could always make your own plays too. Why not?
Go see a show, any show; all the shows you can see.
“Let’s Make really good plays.” – Gabriel Ebert, Featured Actor Tony Winner
Believe that theatre is live and well and closer than you think.
In honor of the Tony-success of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, here is an excerpt from my last book, the non-fiction DOWNTOWN SWANS AND OTHER BLACK SHEEP, about that terrifying play.
The thing about good romance is that it leads to connection. The problem with marriage is that it stretches that band to its limit. And boy can it snap. So, what happens when you take a rubber relationship and pull, pull, pull…never reaching a breaking point? How bad can it get, without ending altogether? Well, let’s file George and Martha of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF as exhibit ‘A’ in our study of an emotional bond.
Edward Albee created a husband and wife whose private delusions have taken such a primary role in how they relate to each other that they have lied to themselves past the chance for honest resolution. How can a couple communicate to each other when their days are filled with drunken games of deception and betrayal? The tiny moments where real connection takes place, when the masks are removed for but a second, only serve as a pause before the upcoming illusion. It is this ability to delude oneself that keeps George and Martha sickeningly together. These lies provide each of them with the hope, the potential that they might win in the end… if they hold out and keep the misery coming.
So, the illusion is the glue. But, how did it become like this? And can they start over? Love, or a misdiagnosis of love, brought the happy couple together. They each saw something in the other that was intriguing. George was a bright man with a penchant for history. Martha was the pretty daughter of the university president. There were reasons, good ones. Love never fails to present its victims with plenty of good reasons. In a rare moment of confession, Martha mentions how George makes her laugh and understands her. She points out that he does this despite how horribly she treats him. In the final scene of the play, George is providing comfort (and a glint of hope) to his wife. This is not a man cashing in his chips in victory over his wife. And Martha is not seeking out a new game to play. Their love is holding them together, to each other. This is a sticky, prickly love…but, love it is.
That’s not to say George and Martha don’t hate the very presence of each other. Oh, as firm as their love is a foundation, so their hate is as hot as Martha’s libido. She is quick to remind George of his failures, taking joy in his insecurity. Even if her motivation is perhaps to spur him to improve, she’s quick to spew her bile. But, the strongest sign of her hate might be her blatant infidelity. She doesn’t simply cheat on George. She waves it before his face.
George’s sarcastic response to Martha’s request for a kiss at the beginning of the play spins the action of the play. Martha asks him why he won’t kiss her. George explains that he’d have to take advantage of her right there, right then. The blatant sarcasm begs the question: why is sex such a disgusting joke to George? Is he just sick of Martha or is there a deeper reason their love life is absurd? Just how deep do their sexual issues go?
In the final scenes of the play, George is fully aware that his honesty will crush her. And it becomes George’s inevitable choice. But, there are two sides to this decision. Yes, Martha will lose painfully. She will not recover to her current state. And yes, George is crossing a line that he cannot redraw. But, that’s the point. If there was any hope of change, of redemption, a sacrifice would have to be made.
The hate of George and Martha springs up often and demonstrably. But, like most aspects of their relationship, it can be very deceptive. Their love may be chaotic, but it is present. They have failed to build it up, but there is a foundation of love to live upon. For this reason, the destruction of their house of lies is crucial. Only now, can they rebuild. They have a chance…a slim one…but a chance, nonetheless.