Tuesday, April 22, 2008

NYTheatre.com: How Theater Failed America:

Daisey's reputation as perhaps the finest monologist of his post-Spalding Gray generation (he is just 35 years old) precedes this piece; seeing Daisey on stage for the first time in How Theater Failed America, I now understand how he's attained that reputation and glowingly endorse it. Even though the only instruments he really uses here are his voice and his expressive hands and face, this is acting, not public speaking; Daisey's is a rare talent, able to plant vivid pictures of places, people, and events that we've never seen before squarely within our mind's eye, so that we aren't just hearing narrated stories but are experiencing them as near to first-hand as it's possible to do without leaving our seats.

The cumulative effect of all of these tales is to remind us of the powers of theatre: transformative, redemptive, and otherwise. Daisey is deeply concerned that theatre and its inherent powers are being squandered by a culture that values money and things more than art and principles. He sees, in the corporatization of theatre (especially large regional theatres), a reflection of a general trend in America away from the energetic individualism that characterizes our idealized vision of who we are and why we're great and toward a passive consumerism that's antithetical to that vision. He sees not just the distressing surface of facts and figures indicating diminished attendance and rising costs, but the more disturbing anomie below. The artistic and managing directors who can't find their way out of the capitalist grind their mired in are the very same citizens who can't seem to elect a government to get them out of a war they don't support.

Which is why Daisey's call to action, no matter how naive you might judge it to be, is vitally important. One of the things he urges in How Theater Failed America is to reverse the failure through individual action, i.e., at the indie theater level. He knows that the impulse to make theatre will no more die than our innate need for freedom.