Thursday, April 17, 2008
New York, Spring 2008 -- Day Two, "The American Dream" and "The Sandbox"
What is the point of theater that is significantly incomprehensible?
I don't mean that in a bad way. A little incomprehensibility can be a good thing, if it's done well. I'm actually honestly curious: what itchy part of our brain does it scratch when we are compelled by a performance -- as I was earlier this evening by two of Edward Albee's early one-acts, "The American Dream" and "The Sandbox" (and recently with "The Maids" in San Francisco)-- but still feel somewhat lost at the end of it?
Clearly, most theatergoers think there is little point to the abstruse. At least when it comes to parting with the better part (if not more) of a hundred-dollar bill. There's a reason "Phantom" is still running after all these years, and part of it is that almost no one leaves the theater saying "OK, explain that to me."
But as I have previously said, art is there to help us look at reality in such a way that we can better get our minds around it. A full-scale map is useless. It has value only when geography is scaled down to the point that our gaze can more effectively encompass it. Art is life to scale. Art enables us to see aspects of existence in ways we couldn't if artists weren't there to reveal them to us.
I'm not saying "The American Dream" and "The Sandbox" are great art. I'm still trying to figure them out. They concern "Mommy" and "Daddy," "Grandma" and "Mrs. Baxter" and "The Young Man." Their motives and actions are obscure or absurd or horrific in turns, though the basic plot of both concerns Mommy and Daddy deciding what to do with Grandma -- or perhaps Grandma deciding how to leave Mommy and Daddy. Each play comes to a different solution. I won't attempt to explain much more that that.
What I will say is I was bored only once, and then only briefly. Mostly I was in thrall to Albee's imagination and point-of-view -- and an especially delectable performance from Judith Ivey.
Early in the evening, Mommy complains that it's hard to get satisfaction. After these two scratchy works, I can say the itchy part of my brain is completely sated.