The Playgoer: BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY--or not at all, please

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Monday, May 16, 2005

BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY--or not at all, please

The latest in "special theatrical events"--i.e. various live entertainment calling itself "theatre" (and covered as such in the NY Times. Although this is from "Arts & Leisure", and when was the last time they covered actual theatre...)

This one--Drumstruck--tells the moving story of struggling corporate motivational speaker who sat his clients at bongos one day... and next thing you know he's charging general admission and calling it a play. Go at your own risk...

Most distressing to me is this is the kind of event that the promising Dodger Stages has to turn to do to fill seats and stay afloat. Last fall, this venture by those enterprising commercial producers The Dodgers to gut an abandoned Cineplex Odeon multiplex and transform it into five nice little off-b'way houses seemed a godsend to all those smaller serious shows looking for just a sliver of market to support more daring work (or at least some new plays!) at less risk and less overhead. How encouraging they opened with Basil Twist's abstract puppet show Symphonie Fantastique. Now it's Altar Boyz and Mr Drum Therapy.

(Interesting thesis to be written, by the way, on these "interactive performances"--to put it nicely--as a uniquely international phenomenon. Drumstruck is from South Africa, then there's the Korean "iron chef" fest Cookin', don't forget the recently departed Aussie Puppetry of the Penis, and the granddaddy of them all the Brazilian acrobat-a-thon De La Guardia. Yes, half of these examples are still Anglophone, but the conventional wisdom behind the genre's success is: no English required. Remember, without tourists there is no theatre business.)

My faith in the future of theatre is always that people will never stop wanting live performance. But performance of what....? I'm reminded of a question an old teacher of mine--a theologian—posited, "How many limbs must a man lose before he is no longer a man?" Substitute "theatre" for "man" and... well, something for "limbs" and you catch my drift.

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