Monday, November 06, 2006

An Oak Tree at Barrow Street Theatre

an oak tree, besides sharing the name of a work of art in the Tate collection, also shares its belief or its expressed interest in the power of art to create an act of transubstantiation. An actor begins as a person who walks on a stage and reads lines. He may enter in his street clothes, it doesn't matter. He may require prompts now and then. But in the end he becomes the character. His or her will to become that character and our desire that he or she embody the character as fully as possible is a shared article of faith that can lead to the miracle of good theater. This of course has been challenged in the past century by works and artists who endevour to remind you of the artifice of theater. "Note to guy or gal sitting in that red-velvet seat (or peeling off-Broadway folding chair) there: You're in a theater. You're watching actors." One of the sucesses of Tim Crouch's play, in which he plays a struggling pub-and-church-hall hypnotist and a different actor every night plays his willing subject, is the way it nods in both directions: opening the fourth wall, yes, but also championing that transformative quality that makes for a lot of good drama. The actual turning of one thing into another without the physical properties actually changing. The father character during the play wills an unseen oak tree to become his dead daughter, killed in a car accident by the very hypnotist, despite the doubts and disbelief of surviving members of his family, played by the hypnotist in flashback/flashforward/flash-sideways scenes. The actor playing the father tonight when I saw the play was Steve Blanchard, who's playing the Beast in Broadway's Beauty and the ..., appearing sans hairy costume on a Monday night. And he actually found a way to channel that deep-voiced resignation that the Beast shows at various points in the movie (no, I've never seen the stage show) into effective touches in this show. I would've loved to see Laurie Anderson fill the changing role tomorrow, especially because of her experience in the world of experimental and avant-garde theater, but it's election night and art has to step aside for a time in my book.

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