Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Scenes from an American Life

While most local theaters are starting their season in early September, the Ledges Playhouse is ending its season. They're doing A. R. Gurney's Scenes from American Life.

I've always been fascinated by Gurney's work--I like non-linear shows and Gurney has a wonderful way with satire. Nor does it hurt that I agree with most of his politics. Scenes is one of those non-linear, political plays. Granted, the politics are sometimes subtle, though if you miss the metaphor at the end, then you might be snoozing.

In fact, Gurney suspects that most of us are snoozing; it's a major theme in his play. He does, though, manage to avoid preaching with the same blunt instrument that he does in O Jerusalem. Of course, this is an earlier work. He might have had more faith in subtlety in the days when he wrote it.

One of the things that is interesting about this particular play is how quickly the scenes change. They change far faster than they did even in The Dining Room. It quickly becomes obvious that Gurney doesn't want you to connect with the characters as individual characters. He never gives you that much time. Rather, he's created a series of archetypes, each of which speaks to a certain message. They aren't real people; they're real ideas.

Perhaps I'm making the play sound heavier than it is. There are plenty of humorous moments in the show; I'd just be disinclined to call it a comedy. Yes, you're meant to laugh, but Gurney wants you to think as well.

In fact, if I had a criticism of the show, it would be that there were some moments where some of the actors chose funny instead of fear or horror.

However, those really were just moments and perhaps I shouldn't mention the one criticism before the greater amount of praise that I have for the show. In a production where actors had to switch characters more often than a campaigning politician changes positions, there was a lot of highly skillful acting taking place on the stage. It was especially interesting to watch actors play ages far removed from themselves and to change their ages by decades in a matter of seconds.

At this point I should make a disclaimer--my husband was in this show, so I'm not an impartial observer. And yes, if you ask, I do think he did a wonderful job. It was also enjoyable to watch him perform with actors he'd worked with in the past: Laura Croff (Macbeth at Michigan Shakespeare Festival, Truculentus at Icarus Falling), Marni Darr Holmes (Dearly Departed at Lansing Civic Players), and Kevin Knights (Twelve Angry Men at Bath Community Theatre Guild and others at BCTG that aren't coming to mind right now).

All of the faces on stage were familiar ones--in addition to those above there were also Ben Holzhausen (and I've done it again--I'm writing a blog entry without the program near by to check spelling), Tanya Canady Burnham, Jane and Mark Zussman, and Kevin Burnham.

I'm planning to catch this show again this coming weekend (though, gone are the days when I can catch every performance Richard has. I make it to each show, but there are too many other competing shows to be able to see every single performance of his shows). It's a thought-provoking show that is worth seeing more than once.

That said, it was a little disappointing to see so few people turn out. I didn't count, but it seemed like there were only 30 to 40 people in the audience. I hope there will be more this weekend because it really is an interesting and intriguing show. Last Saturday night's show was an appreciative audience--and very much a theater crowd. Many of the people in the audience have been on stage themselves at one time or another.

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