The race and the play

My race today got canceled because of snow that never actually materialized (the race promoter had to make a judgment call yesterday and the forecast wasn’t looking good then), but I’m grateful because I developed a sore throat yesterday and needed to take two naps today. It’s safe to assume I would not have done well had I tried to race. My racing season isn’t getting off to such a good start, but I can’t say I care a whole lot — the riding not the racing is the point for me. So far I’ve ridden 930 miles this year, which is just about what I rode last year, and I feel like I’m riding stronger and faster.

So, the play on Friday was a bit of a disappointment. I saw Vigil, written by Morris Panych and thought the play’s premise had a lot of potential that the play itself didn’t live up to. Mostly I was disappointed because I wanted to have the experience of losing myself in the performance, of forgetting that I was in a theater and getting so caught up in the story I didn’t want it to end. The last two times I’ve been to the theater I’ve missed that experience, and I wonder if it happens less often than I think, or if I’ve just had bad luck. I’m not one to lose myself easily in stories when I’m reading; I tend to keep an analytical distance, even when I’m enjoying the book and having an emotional response to the characters or the situation. I just don’t tend to forget I’m sitting there turning pages every now and then. With films, though, I’ll get caught up in the story fairly easily, and I wonder why that doesn’t seem to translate to the theater. Perhaps it has something to do with the way going to the theater feels like an event, as it isn’t something I do that often, and perhaps the unusualness of it makes me keep the self-awareness that precludes getting caught up in the story.

The play’s premise is that a lonely, isolated man, who is also almost unbearably self-centered and misanthropic, quits his job to come take care of his aunt who is on her deathbed. The aunt is not approaching death fast enough for this man, however, an opinion he makes abundantly clear to the poor woman. The first part of the play basically consists of jokes where the man says in a variety of horrifying ways that he wishes his aunt would hurry up and die.

What makes the play interesting is that, at least initially, the aunt doesn’t speak at all. This is not explained (at least not at first); we just accept that for some reason she responds to the man with gestures and facial expressions, but without words. I liked this set-up because it gives the man room to say whatever he wants, to reveal things about himself, to tell stories about his past, and he can do this because he has not just a listener, but one whose only judgment is a stare or a grimace or a smile. His audience never interrupts him, or offers an opinion, or asks him to be quiet.

The man does tell lots of stories about himself and does reveal things about his past and his personality (which is pretty messed up), but the disappointing thing is I never felt these stories added up to much. It was just one funny or moving or horrifying story after another. Now the play’s main plot is about the evolving relationship between the man and his aunt so it does have a traditional story arc that is satisfying in its own way, but so much of the play is taken up with the man’s monologues that I thought for sure all those stories would end up going somewhere. Instead they seemed to be there merely to make the audience laugh and to make the man look troubled and pathetic.

But in spite of my doubts about the play, I did enjoy the whole experience; it’s a pleasure to be able to critique something when it’s finished, after all, and that’s not a pleasure I take lightly.

10 Comments

Filed under Cycling, Life, Reading

10 responses to “The race and the play

  1. Too bad the play wasn’t as good as you had hoped. But at least you still enjoyed yourself. Take care of that sore throat!

  2. musingsfromthesofa

    Sorry that the play wasn’t as good as you had hoped!
    I have never been able to fall into a play the way I can into a book or film. I’m always aware that I’m a spectator watching a performance and I find it very hard to get over the artificiality of that situation. I’ve come close once or twice, I think, but that’s all.

    Hope your sore throat is better today.

  3. I rarely go to plays, so I’m not sure how I would respond (I can easily lose myself in a book and really easily in a good movie). I wonder if being part of a crowd makes the experience less intimate–you’re always aware you are a spectator (though movies are the same situation if you watch them in a movie theater–I guess I usually rent them, though). At least it had its entertaining points. Hope your sore throat is better!

  4. Edd

    I am sorry you did not get the experience you were looking for in the play and unfortunately I can not critique a play as I have only attended one play in my 61 years and that was “Phantom of the Opera” on its opening night. But I can say I was truly immersed in the play but that again could be it was my very first and as it turned out the very last.

    As for books, I can become completely one with the story but have never enjoyed a movie based on a book I have read. And even now, I do not view many movies except some of the old Westerns specifically directed by John Ford. Take care of your sore throat and gargle with plenty of salt water, as my grandmother would always say.

  5. verbivore

    I often have trouble getting lost in the story of a play. I think its because I’m too aware of the human element. With a book (or a movie, like you mention), I’m the only human element so I can sort of tuck myself away while I’m reading but with theatre, there is so much emotion in the room around me and coming from the stage – it seems more difficult to let the experience take over.

  6. I have a sore throat too! I send much sympathy! We went to the theatre last night and saw Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. I wanted to take my son as I’d seen it first at his age and found it terrifying and wonderful and totally engrossing. It was a good adaptation and my son spent the entire second half wrapped around my arm, barely able to watch. Me, I felt my cold coming on, and enjoyed his tension and wondered when it might end. I’m wondering whether we might just have to put it down to age….

  7. Stefanie — thank you — I’m starting to feel better (no sore throat now, but it’s turned into a cold) … I definitely enjoyed the play, even if I didn’t love it.

    Musings — well, I think you’ve described exactly what I felt, that self-awareness at being a spectator. It’s not a bad thing, just very different from other types of literary experiences.

    Danielle — yeah, being in a crowd has something to do with it and also having real live actors in front of me, people who could possibly mess up. Films aren’t risky in that way.

    Edd — I too don’t usually enjoy movies adapted from books I’ve read — the book usually seems so thin and unsatisfying.

    Verbivore — great explanation — there’s so much emotion in the room, including anxiety and self-awareness. I notice it when people leave early too, and I wonder what they weren’t liking about the play.

    Litlove — feel better! My sore throat has transformed into a cold, but I’m fine. I hope yours has just disappeared! How interesting to think of it in terms of age; it does seem likely that our ability to lose our sense of the surroundings and of everyday worries might diminish when we grow up.

  8. Perhaps it’s the total abandon of throwing yourself into a performance which diminishes with age; we’re too aware of the person in the next row unwrapping a candy, or someone behind us jiggling a foot, or an actor muffing a line etc. I agree that being able to critique and discuss a play afterwards is half the pleasure! I see quite a few plays during theatre season here, and have probably lost myself completely in only 3 over the past five years.

  9. Hmmm…I seem to be the only one who can still completely lose myself in a play. I love everything about theatre: the sets, the costumes, the overly dramatic way people speak in order to project their voices (although that’s happening less and less these days with all the actors wearing microphones). It’s only ruined for me when I feel someone really can’t act, which then becomes a huge distraction.

  10. Melanie — yes, I certainly don’t have that ability to abandon myself and ignore my surroundings. I’m naturally that way, I think, but it’s probably gotten worse as I’ve grown older.

    Emily — well, lucky you! I love the theater too, but it’s so much of a cerebral experience, rather than an emotional one. I’d like a little bit of the emotion back!

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