Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Baby Boomer and a Generation Y'er Talk about Theatre

After a patron in a Broadway matinee performance found out I'm a playwright, he asked me how come all the new playwrights only write plays about whacked out families, with the obligatory gay son, and revealed secret? He asked/commented about how boring it was. I was very proud of myself, didn't go on a tirade, didn't scream 'it's cause of mofos like you!!' Instead I sighed a bit under my breath. Do I really want to get into this right now? Sure, why not.

In response to his question I said most young writers have a whole menu of plays, but the powers that be -responding to a atrophied, rich, less-adventurous, less-diverse audience- tend to pick from that menu the stories that are comfortable and don't disturb the shrinking gray economics of for-profit theatre.

The patron nodded and asked what I just finished and I told him: a docudrama with song/poetry/testimonials about the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and a dark comedy about a group of homeless people being evicted from their tent city. He nodded, the lights went down, and we proceeded to watch a play about a dysfunctional family, a gay son who died of AIDS, and his lover. When it was all over, he turned to me and said 'that was so moving.'

They say the cream rises to the top but the spigot for new work is squarely at the bottom of the keg. The cream ends up being the last thing left in the tank along with the dregs. Ironic that the 2 things left over are the very best and the very worst. Everything becomes a race to the middle. That's not to say that writers shouldn't tell stories about dysfunctional families. In fact some of the best new plays I've seen this year are about crazed, cracked-out families. And this is probably the true for every year in theatre since the beginning of its creation.

But I left the theatre laughing and thinking about it. Our conversation was nice but it felt like we were talking around what we really wanted to say. In my head I was having a side conversation, translating our statements into its ruder subtext that went like this:

HIM: What the hell is wrong with you kids? I hate your stories and your lack of imagination? Who taught you this, huh?

ME: You, all right!! I learned it by watching you!!! You're the problem.

HIM: Yeah, maybe I am. But I still hate it.

ME: I do too.

HIM: Fine.

ME: OK!

AFTER PLAY SUBTEXT

HIM: Wow, I really liked that play about the very thing I said I was tired of!

ME: You really are the problem!

HIM: I know but this play was penned by an older playwright talking about a more-conventionally dysfunctional family.

ME: So you're saying you like dysfunctional family dramas but only if they are conventional and don't actually explore more explicit, younger themes?!?

HIM: PRETTY MUCH!

ME: So it's okay for your generation to do the same thing that our generation -who has learned from you- is doing?

HIM: Yes, I'm a baby boomer. I completely contradict myself! What's wrong with these kids today...oh...

ME: What? Did you just have a piercing moment of self-realization? Did you see that the contradiction at the heart of your initial statement is the same subtle hypocrisy that plays itself out in every aspect of our society by dismissing and degrading young people following in the wake of an incredibly narcissistic, wasteful, and drugged up generations known as the baby boomers? Did you just have that moment?

HIM: No, I just realized I want Thai food.




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