December 19, 2007

The House Of Yes, or: When Artistic Success Can Be A Bad Thing

(Photo by Ray Gniewek - Washington Shakespeare Company)

The most recent play I've seen (actually the only play I've seen in several weeks) is WSC's The House Of Yes. It's running in rep with
the play I'm in; they came to our opening the week before, so it was only right and proper that we went to theirs. And hearing all the screams from the rehearsal room while we were working onstage (and vice versa) over the preceding weeks made me all the more excited to see this.

I won't provide an in-depth critique of the production (save the following paragraphs), because that's the province of critics. In short, everyone did a superlative job. Brilliant acting and tight, smart direction. They totally nailed it. And therein lies the paradox.

I see a lot of parallels with August Strindberg's Dance of Death, because both plays suffer from the same trap: when done well, they're unwatchable. To say that the actors were completely successful is a double-edged compliment, because this means that they succeeded in bringing completely revolting characters to life. And to say that they expertly told the story is to say that they expertly painted a repugnant and unredemptive portrait of humanity.

For all my pretentions about art... oh, sorry, Art, I still think there needs to be at least a dim ray of hope in the midst of it. For all the squalor, there needs to be an exit. Even a dreary and depressing play like Edward Bond's Saved ends on a note of cautious optimism. And as for the subtitle "a suburban Jacobean play," the Jacobean tragedy that first comes to mind is Webster's Duchess of Malfi, and even that bloodbath of a play ends on a redemptive note. So if there's any failing here -- and I'm not sure if the fault is with the play or the production -- it lies in the sense that there's no out; overwhelming nihilism wins the day.

So... congratulations?

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