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25.1.05

The Marvelous Anachronism of Theater

When one artistic camp bitches about the Washington Post's arts coverage, another is happy. Although J. T. Kirkland pointed out the paucity of visual arts coverage in last Sunday's arts section, there was a great article (Mining Their Own Business: Theaters Dig Into the Forgotten Past For What They Hope Will Be Gems, January 23) by Peter Marks, as well as a nice feature on this coming weekend's world premiere of a new opera by Scott Wheeler (see the Ionarts Concert Schedule for January). Marks describes the new production of Alfred de Musset's Lorenzaccio at the Shakespeare Theatre as a daring move to save a "lost play":

Lost plays have a romantic pull for theater people, especially for those in love with the past. Resurrecting a forgotten work is a bit like recovering a gold cigarette case from a sunken ocean liner: Wipe away the barnacles and who knows? You may find something that glitters. Of course there's also the possibility that the thing will simply come apart in your hands. That danger, too, is part of the attraction. And in the case of regional theaters that need to hold on to subscribers, to strike a balance between unorthodox program choices and seat-filling chestnuts, adventurism can come at a price.
If de Musset is that far off the map, it shows how dead theater (like opera) has become through the mindless repetition of a narrow group of works. This sends me back again to the now abandoned defense of live theater from the assault of A. C. Douglas. As for the relevance of theater, I am reminded now of a line from François Truffaut's Baisers volés, in which a character compares the modern institution of the army to the theater: L'armée, l'armée, c'est comme le théâtre: un merveilleux anachronisme. An anachronism, yes, but a marvelous one.

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