On occasion, one aspect of theater stands out from most other forms of the arts.
Sometimes, you can’t possibly know how the story will end.
You can skip ahead to the end of a short story, a poem, or a book. In big-budget movies, you already know what will happen even before you fork over your $10-12 (plus the price of popcorn). I haven’t seen the latest James Bond yet, heck, they might not have even filmed it yet, but I probably already know that the dude will still be alive at the end (and somehow, I don’t think that’s a spoiler alert). In low-budget movies, you can’t take for granted that you know how they will end, so they offer a similar experience to theater. Sometimes a good television show will throw a huge surprise at you, so that also counts as a similar experience.
But when you sit in your chair on the threshold of the world premiere of a play, you can’t possibly know how it will turn out before the end. As the above picture shows, you can’t even know what you might see on stage. A movie set in New York City? You probably won’t see the Golden Gate Bridge. That’s just not real. Theater hasn’t these constraints (unless the show wants them), and therefore has greater scope for invention, even though it operates under severe physical constraints. Theater is invention grounded by force in reality.
The above photograph of the set of The Two Chairs (world premiere this month at Bindlestiff by the Performers Under Stress) is a good example. As it happens, I had to opportunity to read the entire script before the show, and still had no idea what to expect. Sometimes happens with the classics, too: Yale Rep once staged a spectacular version of The Tempest featuring eight Ariels.
The Two Chairs is a two-hander (two actors total) about confession, power, domination and control. Both actors did very well on the night I saw the show, but Duane Lawrence has now amazed me in two consecutive plays; he can do astonishing things just by arching a single eyebrow. And that’s another advantage of the theater over other art forms; its sheer visceral nature. Those are real human beings on a stage and sometimes they are only a few feet away from you. Or even less; in one show, my character had a death scene that went slightly awry and my head ended up on an audience member’s foot. CGI just can’t me the same feeling; after a while, let’s face it, it’s just more computer stuff.
Theater: it’s just plain real.
Surprise yourself and check out a play and let it surprise you.
Full disclosure: I know the director and cast of The Two Chairs (the SF theater scene is both big and small; everyone knows everyone). Even so, I still feel good about recommending the show.
Vonn Scott Bair