One of the playwrights we’ve been studying in 20th Century American Drama is Mac Wellman. Wellman is an advocate of innovative, non-linear, poetic theatre. He reserves his deepest scorn for what he calls “geezer theatre,” that is theatre that is full of “good intentions” or one where ideas are “entombed” in the “hokey framework of story”.
His words hit hard this weekend, when I encountered geezer theatre not just in Wellman’s terms, but in literal terms as well. I went to a performance of Boeing, Boeing, a classic door-slamming sex farce which played to great acclaim on Broadway a few years ago. I hasten to say, that the performance was really very well done (i was somewhat less fond of the writing, but that’s another story), and I thought the actors, the set, costume, and sound designers all did a great job.
Wellman’s criticism of “mere entertainment” can be set aside, I think, because this is a sex farce after all. We’re here for the exquisite timing, double-entendres, and pretty girls. Less easily set aside was the fact that there were literally only two people in the audience under 30, and one of them was about ten. The median age was easily 60 or higher and from the back row, it was clear this was a sea of gray, white, and/or balding.
This does not bode well for the future of live performance.
On a somewhat brighter note, I also attended last week, a piay that was non-geezer in both senses. Tulane University presented a version of Ionesco’s The Lesson that was attended by an audience of all ages. However, a university performance always means that a large part of the audience will be students, so I can’t say that the turnout there is a good counterpoint to my previous example. (I should add that this was a very good production as well, with special kudos for a minimalist/surrealist take on the set design.)