Writing about theatre can be difficult. After all, Theatre is about doing, not talking, thinking or even writing about doing. It is especially difficult to write about a show when a group with seemingly all the right pieces–social consciousness, community focus, history, deep literary roots, high academic standards, the desire to explore new frontiers, etc.– fails to hit the mark.
We in the theatre like to be positive with one another, at least in person. When a show is good–there is no shortage of kudos and maybe a trophy or two. But when a show just fails, we struggle to find something positive without really getting into the meat of the matter, which is, of course, usually the acting and/or direction. Were we to go there, we would broach the treacherous path of “THE PROCESS QUESTION”–too often the road not taken.
Many theatre artists eschew this discussion and for a variety of reasons. Some actors fear a process conversation because they feel acting is somehow magical or occult, and to explore it would sever the mysterious connection they have in performance. I used to feel this way myself once upon a time. Often times, but certainly not always, these actors are inconsistent onstage, unable to sustain intense emotions, requiring the audience to hang the show on the dialogue just to get it.
Others have been indoctrinated into the 20th century Western models of pedagogy and practice, and they shall not be moved from the “method” Amen, despite some serious flaws, which are evidenced regularly on any number of stages. Still others have gone the way of Grotowski, seduced by how good affective athleticism feels to a body, and how powerful it can be for an audience, but in the end, there is more to a play performance than the dictatorship of physical prowess.
Having experienced each of these, among many others along the way, I can write that all of these schools of process have certain merits, as well as serious flaws. And in the end it is most often the Director who is orchestrating the process, for better or worse. In Legal Tender, it is unclear which process tools were employed in rehearsal, but whatever they chose, it did not serve the end result.
by Robert Michael Oliver and Elizabeth Bruce
1021 7th Street NW 3rd Floor
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
Legal Tender has the players performing a series of prose stories–every single word–written by Elizabeth Bruce. The theme: what one American greenback can mean at a juncture of one’s life. In each vignette, different actors take on varied characters with ‘lines’ and the others fill in the prose like a sort of subtext/narrative chorus.
This form could potentially be powerful, but the actors seemed uncomfortably bunched and under-rehearsed. As they shared lines among themselves, even though playing space was quite small, they were disconnected from one another for the most part, and rhythm was just jerky, making it hard to follow the narrative. This was exacerbated by the fact that most of the lines were delivered in direct address, even when there were two characters present on stage who were supposed to be talking to one another.
The stories are sweet, and some of the actors really do begin to embody some of their characters. Forrest Rilling delivers some crisply varied work; from an 11 year old to an ex-con, he is a presence on the stage. Andrew White does a fair turn as a park-bench drunk, and Sharyce L. McElvane has some touching moments even though she seems a bit ill at ease in the larger structural context of the performance per se. Maya Oliver flashes some beautiful dance technique, but seems again, crowded amongst her fellow players.
Sanctuary Theatre is obviously a treasure for the community it serves, providing education and a literary identity in a variety of workshops and programs for a varied demographic. With this sort of inclusivity, it is not surprising that there is some chaos on the boards, but I’m interested to see what develops in the future.