Last weekend, Joshua and I attended a performance of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” at Lyric Stage Company Of Boston.
The production was atrocious, not even arising to the level of community theater. Josh and I should have been appalled, but we were so busy giggling at the utter ineptitude of everything about the production and performance that we could not summon outrage.
Every player was miscast—each was too old, by decades, except for the Madame Arcati, who was too young—and the play was misdirected and poorly staged, two very different things. With reference to the former, the tone was wrong, the style was wrong, the artificiality of the play was not respected, the text was delivered with no panache or punch. With reference to the latter, the stage design was wrong, the costuming was wrong, the blocking was wrong, the ghostly apparitions failed to convince as they must. The whole enterprise was unbelievably bumbling.
I don’t think such a production would fly in Fargo. How can a large, seemingly sophisticated city such as Boston tolerate, even accept, such amateurish stage productions?
I wish I knew the answer to that question.
Boston is clearly not a theater town. Talented directors, designers and actors reside all over the country—and they certainly are giving Boston a wide berth. The level of theater production in Boston is several notches below the level routinely offered in Minneapolis or Washington, two cities in which I have devoted considerable attention to the work of resident theater companies.
My boss, who has lived in Boston for thirty years, tells me that the Boston theater problem is rooted in lack of money and lack of tradition.
First, Boston is a very poor city compared to Minneapolis or Washington.
Second, Minneapolis and Washington have long enjoyed well-funded flagship theater institutions—The Guthrie in the case of the former, Arena Stage in the case of the latter—that have served as the basis and set the tone for a flourishing theatrical scene now decades-old in each city. Boston has never enjoyed such an advantage—although the American Repertory Theater at one time was believed to be on its way to importance (but no more).
A production as bad as Lyric Stage Company Of Boston’s “Blithe Spirit” would set the city’s theatrical community abuzz in Minneapolis or Washington. Patrons would be complaining, Board members would be screaming for heads to roll, the local press would be having a field day.
In Boston, on the other hand, such productions are par for the course, and pass unnoticed.