Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Packing It In

We skipped Bloomington Civic Theatre’s production of the Claude-Michel Schönberg-Alain Boublil-Jean-Marc Natel-Herbert Kretzmer musical, “Les Misérables”, which played in October and November.

I was told that the production was excellent. (The extended run sold out.) The production team had received authorization from the show’s licensers to convert the original instrumentation (with its extensive use of synthesizers) into a genuine full-orchestra arrangement—and I was told that the new orchestration was masterly, and the BCT orchestra work exceptional.

For whatever reason, “Les Misérables” has never appealed to me, and I’ve never seen a production of the show. By the time we gave some thought to attending one of the BCT performances, BCT had long since sold all tickets to all performances.

Back in July and August, the current National Touring Company production of “Les Misérables” had also hit town, surely the 500th visit to Minneapolis of a National Touring Company production of “Les Misérables”. We skipped that “Les Misérables”, too.

I think I’ll hold out on seeing “Les Misérables” until the show’s 50th-anniversary presentations, due to pop up everywhere in the 2030s, no doubt.

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Likewise, we shall skip Theatre In The Round’s production of Agatha Christie’s “Spider’s Web”, a production that closes this coming weekend.

In each of the past two seasons, we had caught productions of Christie plays at Theatre In The Round—“The Hollow” and “Appointment With Death”—and a third Christie play in three seasons was too much for us to contemplate.

I believe Theatre In The Round devotes too much attention to mystery plays.

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Jungle Theater’s current production of Alfred Uhry’s “Driving Miss Daisy” is proving so popular that the run has been extended until year-end.

I do not know what accounts for the popularity of “Driving Miss Daisy”—it seems to come around as often as “Les Misérables”—and sometime I shall have to sit through a production of the play.

I have seen the film version, which may be enjoyed, but the material itself is thin and maudlin—as well as manufactured and blatantly commercial—and we are too busy with work and holiday preparations to waste time on something like “Driving Miss Daisy”.

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The new Guthrie production of Garson Kanin’s “Born Yesterday” received a mixed press—which in the Twin Cities is the same thing as a bad press, since negative notices are banned here.

I am not an admirer of the play, which is hopelessly formulaic . . . but a superb production might get me in the door.

The Guthrie production, I am told, is inept, badly-cast and badly-played—and we shall not be going.

Joshua and I saw an undistinguished production of “Born Yesterday” over Labor Day Weekend in 2009 at Canada’s Shaw Festival. I recall we had trouble sitting through the play.

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Yesterday The Guthrie announced a fiscal deficit for its 2012-2013 season, its first such deficit in twenty years. The company also announced that total attendance for the 2012-2013 season had been 375,000 persons, 50,000 persons fewer than the previous season.

The Guthrie’s Artistic Director, Joe Dowling, specifically mentioned three productions that had proven deeply disappointing at the box office: Christopher Hampton's “Tales From Hollywood”; Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”; and a stage adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s novel, “Home Of The Gentry”.

We attended all three productions specifically cited as reasons for last season’s box-office woes. Indeed, the three cited productions were the three productions we had most wanted to see last season.

What is the significance of yesterday’s revelations?

To begin, I would suggest that the size of the Guthrie’s serious audience has declined, perhaps to the point of imperiling the institution’s long-term viability.

Further, the information released by The Guthrie supports the proposition that anything remotely challenging does not find an audience in Minneapolis—which undercuts the often-mouthed local platitude that Minneapolis is a theater center. If only commercial twaddle sells here, Minneapolis has become an entertainment center, a very different thing than a theater center.

According to Dowling, The Guthrie has lost almost 50 per cent of its subscribers since 2000—a decline Dowling attributes to a fundamental change in theater-going habits.

I might be inclined to accept Dowling’s premise if commercial fluff sold as poorly as the good stuff.

However, it is commercial fluff that now sells, while the good stuff plays to empty seats—which tells me that The Guthrie has been an active participant in the dumbing-down of its mission, consciously cultivating a popular audience instead of a serious one.

This season, The Guthrie is giving the musical, “My Fair Lady”, a two-month run. This season, as in every season, the deplorable “A Christmas Carol” is receiving a lengthy Christmas run. (What kind of person actually GOES to “A Christmas Carol”?) Commercial comedies like “Born Yesterday” and “Crimes Of The Heart” are receiving unwarranted attention.

Commercial theater has no rightful place in a state-subsidized enterprise—and if only commercial vehicles are keeping The Guthrie afloat, the company might as well shut its doors, as it no longer serves the purpose for which it was established.

The Guthrie will be losing more subscribers. After almost forty years, my parents, who use their tickets less and less each passing year, are—once the current season concludes—packing it in.

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