Some reflections on "Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them" or: Tom Stoppard is a stuffy old bum.

Hey, everybody!

For the last five weeks or so, I've been wicked busy rehearsing and building and performing Theatre Too's production of Christopher Durang's WHY TORTURE IS WRONG AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM. It's a heck of a funny play, and it's still open, so you ought to come check it out. [Chris here: I saw it opening weekend, it really is a funny play and something that takes an up to the brink approach with current events, politics and the greater good. See it!]

Last night, we had a talk-back with a class of UNT Intro to Theatre students after the show. They had been a really good audience-- very vocal in their appreciation--, and they asked a few neat questions. I piped in on a few, but though that the questions could have used a bit of time to think.

Q: How does this play compare to working on other Tom Stoppard plays like THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND? 

A: This play is by Christopher Durang, but it's a damn clever question, especially when it comes to the ending of this play. SPOILER ALERT! At the end of this play, the characters break out of the narrative, take action and change the course of previous action to better suit their needs. In INSPECTOR HOUND, characters who believe themselves to be in the audience, at an objective distance from Stoppard's play within a play, are brought, quite literally into the action and find themselves pretty well powerless to stop the natural course of things. The same might be said for Rozencrants and Guilldenstern, who are caught in a narrative larger than themselves, unable to effect the tides of the world. Durang's view is a bit more hopeful.

Q: How do you work with breaking out of character and breaking the fourth wall to address the audience?

A: I said, last night, "I love it. I was raised by a postmodern family, and we break the fourth wall all the time." This might not have been as complete an answer as possible. The truth, as I get it, is this: When you're acting, and you have to break the fourth wall, you do. You might create a new version of that character in your mind-- you might create a character that is "the actor" and use him or her. It doesn't matter too much. The challenge to conceptual blending incurred by an actor/character breaking the fourth wall is the audience's responsibility. It is inside of their brains. This is as true (if not as extreme) now as it was for the ancient Greeks, for Ludwig Tieck, for Pirandello, for the great Jeremy Dobrish. The beauty of this kind of breaking is that it dicks up the assumption of naturalism, or at least of the audience as uninvolved spectator. This leads me to the next question:

Q: Durang says [has characters say], a number of times, that he [they] hate theatre. He makes fun of Tom Stoppard, of Martin McDonough, of Brian Friel, having people in the audiences of their plays kill themselves due to the boredom. What is Durang trying to do here?

A: One student suggested that Durang is employing a self-deprecating humor here. I think that's possible, but isn't it more interesting if we give Durang the benefit of the doubt? What if this is not so much a joke as a call to arms? Theatre, as dictated by our dead, white, male forefathers, in theory and in dry, intellectual dramas, can be boring and, for the most part, utterly useless. I'm talking to you, Sir David Hare. Theatre, by and large, as we've defined it in our playhouses, has wasted so much of our time and our money with these kitchen sink dramas and naval-gazing plays in which some grand point is trying to be made. Durang, (and I'm putting words in his mouth) may be saying that this theatre needs to be broken. It should be taken apart and fiddled around with until it is right on the verge of what any sane person might call "theatre." Make it weird. Make it illogical. Subvert phallogocentrism! This, I think, could be a new definition of genius: the willingness to take something that you love-- break it apart, pick out superfluous pieces, and see what it can do. This is what Jackson Pollock and Mondrian seem to have done with painting; what John Cage has done with music; what Descartes did with philosophy and Einstein did with modern physics. It is also what hackers do with electronics. My best advice is this: Break Shit. Understand that there may always be a play outside of the play you're living in, and perhaps a play outside of that. Rules are dumb, and they're generally made by theorists rather than practitioners. 


Finally: Don't drink too much beer before composing a blog post.

More later 

Dan Pucul