Category Archives: plays

Smash Hit LA Premiere ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ extends to January 26 at Fountain Theatre

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Montae Russell, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Marisol Miranda, Matthew Hancock.

The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis will extend its sold-out run to January 26, 2020. The original cast will remain intact.

The performance schedule continues to be Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 2pm and Monday 8pm (Pay What You Want). More info/Get Tickets 

Over a dozen rave reviews:

THE PULITZER-WINNING PLAY YOU MUST SEE IN L.A.” — Los Angeles Times

REWARD[S] US WITH THE RAREST OF GIFTS: the pleasure of a raffish grace where you least expect to find it.”— Cultural Weekly

SUPERBLY ACTED… The Fountain Theatre has done itself proud again.” — Hollywood Progressive

SPLASH SELECTION… a superbly directed, acted, and produced must-see show.” — LA Splash

HUMOR AND WORDPLAY AND FANTASTIC MUSIC POWERFUL PERFORMANCES” — Larchmont Buzz

“A thoughtful exploration of family, forgiveness, and deciding what is important when life has not gone the way you imagined… led by a TOUR DE FORCE from Russell, who brings the enigmatic Pops to life with impressive complexity.” — On Stage and Screen

NEEDS TO BE SEEN… sometimes hilarious, sometimes agonizing… a seamless, breathtaking ensemble” — People’s World

OUTSTANDING… laugh lines abound… deals with profound issues of the human condition.” — Beverly Cohn, Santa Monica Mirror

WOW!SENSATIONAL… Contemporary play-writing at its most original and Los Angeles theater at its finest.” —Stage Scene LA

SCINTILLATING… an exciting, engrossing piece of theatre with a cast of seasoned pros.”  Theatre Notes

BRILLIANT DIRECTION… [A] SUPERB CAST“—Theatre Spoken Here

HILARIOUSLY OUTRAGEOUS and delightfully off-kilter dialogue… one of out city’s best ensemble casts” — Ticket Holders LA

FEARLESS… a brutally honest understanding of human emotions fully on display by a talented cast of seven.” — Culver City News

Lin-Manuel Miranda: “All art is political.”

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Lin-Manuel Miranda in Chicago, 2019.

by Lin-Manuel Miranda

All art is political. In tense, fractious times—like our current moment—all art is political. But even during those times when politics and the future of our country itself are not the source of constant worry and anxiety, art is still political. Art lives in the world, and we exist in the world, and we cannot create honest work about the world in which we live without reflecting it. If the work tells the truth, it will live on.

Public Enemy’s “911 Is a Joke,” George Orwell’s 1984, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s whole damn catalog—all are political works that tell the truth.

Yes, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Consider The Sound of Music. It isn’t just about climbing mountains and fording streams. Look beyond the adorable von Trapp children: It’s about the looming existential threat of Nazism. No longer relevant? A GIF of Captain von Trapp tearing up a Nazi flag is something we see 10 times a day on Twitter, because all sorts of Nazis are out there again in 2019. As last spring’s searing Broadway revival of Oklahoma! revealed, lying underneath Hammerstein’s elephant-eye-high corn and chirping birds is a lawless society becoming itself, bending its rules and procedures based on who is considered part of the community (Curly) and who is marginalized (poor Jud … seriously, poor Jud). Or consider your parents’ favorite, South Pacific. At its center, our hero, Nellie Forbush, must confront her own internalized racism when she learns that the new love of her life has biracial children from a previous marriage. Let your parents know if they forgot: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals form the spine of Broadway’s “golden age,” and they also deeply engage with the politics of their era.

In the Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway cast of In the Heights.

My first Broadway musical, In the Heights, is an example of how time can reveal the politics inherent within a piece of art. When I began writing this musical, as a college project at Wesleyan University, it was an 80-minute collegiate love story with a promising mix of Latin music and hip-hop, but it was pretty sophomoric (which is appropriate; I was a sophomore). After college, I started from scratch with the director Thomas Kail and the playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and we shifted the show’s focus from the love story to Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan where everyone is from everywhere. In the 20th century, Washington Heights was often home to the latest wave of immigrants. It was an Irish neighborhood; it was a Russian Jewish neighborhood (Yeshiva University is up there). If you take the Dominican store sign down you’ll see a sign for an Irish pub underneath it, and if you take that down you’ll find Hebrew. Washington Heights was heavily Dominican when I was growing up, and it remains so, with a vibrant Mexican and Latin American immigrant community as well.

We received great reviews. If critics had a common criticism, it was that the show, its contemporary music aside, was somehow old-fashioned or “sentimental.” Gentrification, the businesses closing, the literal powerlessness as the characters face a blackout that affects only their neighborhood—these issues, always there in the material, didn’t register with most theater critics in 2008. In the Heights was considered a hit by Broadway standards. It didn’t leap off the Arts page and into the national conversation like Hamilton would, but we won some Tonys, recouped our investment, and had a wonderful three-year run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton now lives. We posted our Broadway closing notice at the end of 2010.

What a difference 10 years makes.

Trump+Immigration+Policy

Right now, Jon M. Chu is editing his feature-film adaptation of In the Heights, which is scheduled to be released in June. We spent a joyous summer shooting the film—on location, in our neighborhood—and issues that were always inherent in the text now stand out in bold-faced type. Gentrification has rendered Lower Manhattan, Harlem, and much of Brooklyn unrecognizable to the previous generations that called those neighborhoods home. The East Village of Jonathan Larson’s Rent is nonexistent, lettered avenues notwithstanding. And the narrative of immigrants coming to this country and making a better life for themselves—the backdrop of everything that happens in In the Heights, across three generations of stories—is somehow a radical narrative now.

Donald Trump came down the escalator to declare his presidential run, and in his first speech he demonized Mexicans: They’re rapists; they’re bringing drugs; they’re not sending their best people. We young Latinos had thought of our parents and grandparents as the latest wave making its home in this country, and we thought that we would be the next group to make this place a better place, to prove once again that the American dream wasn’t just a figment of some propagandist’s imagination. And now we’re in a different age when, for some, considering an immigrant a human being is a radical political act.

Consider this rap, written 12 years ago and delivered by Sonny, In the Heights’ youngest character, in a song called “96,000”:

Your kids are living without a good edumacation,
Change the station, teach ’em about gentrification,
The rent is escalatin’
The rich are penetratin’
We pay our corporations when we should be demonstratin’
What about immigration?
Politicians be hatin’
Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant

It was always political. It was always there. Donald Trump made it even more true.

Trump uses language to destroy empathy. He criminalizes the impulse and imperative to seek asylum, to seek a place to live thousands of miles away because the alternative at home is worse. Through his lens, these seekers are not people; they’re “animals” or “bad hombres.”

What artists can do is bring stories to the table that are unshakably true—the sort of stories that, once you’ve heard them, won’t let you return to what you thought before. I think about the crisis on the border constantly. I think about the famous photograph of a little girl crying beside a Border Patrol truck. That picture went viral because it seemed to capture the horror of family separations. But it turned out that the girl wasn’t being separated from her mother—her mother had simply been ordered to put her daughter down while she was searched by agents. The family was in distress, and the border crisis was real, but people used the details of this particular incident to close themselves off from empathy. “Fake news,” they said. A child is crying for her mother, but that’s not enough to keep people from pushing empathy away. I believe great art is like bypass surgery. It allows us to go around all of the psychological distancing mechanisms that turn people cold to the most vulnerable among us.

At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them. We keep revisiting Shakespeare’s Macbeth because ruthless political ambition does not belong to any particular era. We keep listening to Public Enemy because systemic racism continues to rain tragedy on communities of color. We read Orwell’s 1984 and shiver at its diagnosis of double-think, which we see coming out of the White House at this moment. And we listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, as Lieutenant Cable sings about racism, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” It’s all art. It’s all political.


This article appears in the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award–winning composer, lyricist, and actor.

Lesley Fera: The intimacy of the Fountain’s ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ is “magical”

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Now casting: Fountain Theatre world premiere ‘Human Interest Story’

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The Fountain Theatre is now casting roles available in the world premiere of the new play, Human Interest Story, written and directed by Stephen Sachs.  The timely  drama examining homelessness and ethics in journalism is scheduled to open February 15, 2020.

Newspaper columnist Andy Kramer is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes the City Chronicle. In retaliation, Andy fabricates a letter to his column from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world. When the letter goes viral, Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman to stand-in as the fictitious Jane Doe. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited. A funny and riveting tale on the ethics of American journalism, homelessness, the worship of celebrity and the need to tell your own story.

Now Casting the Following Roles:

BETTY FRAZIER/JANE DOE
35 to 45 years old, Black/African American female. Laid-off elementary school teacher Betty Frazier has been homeless two years. She becomes an overnight media sensation as the fictitious Jane Doe. Strong-willed, compassionate, deep feeling, smart, nobody’s fool. She has come from the hell of darkness and is now reaching for light. Fiercely fighting to be seen and be heard, she discovers her own voice. The one she always had.

MILLER/BAUMAN
Caucasian male. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Miller, a cold-blooded, ruthless newspaper editor, and Bauman, a scheming far-right political campaign aide.

HERNANDEZ/MORAN
40 to 50 years old, Hispanic male. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Hernandez, an ardent by-the-book newspaper Assistant Editor, and Moran, a polite sturdy bodyguard.

NAKESHA/TV HOST
35 to 50 years old, Black/African American female. Seeking a versatile actor to play many roles including Nakesha, a hard-working impassioned school principal and TV Host, a razor-sharp intellectual black feminist.

Rehearsal starts Monday, January 6th, 2020. The production runs February 15 – April 5, 2020.  Contract: AEA 99-Seat. Auditions: November 11 -22, 2019.

Email headshot & resume: casting@fountaintheatre.com

Fountain Theatre earns 18 Ovation Award nominations including Best Season

LA STAGE Alliance announced yesterday that the Fountain Theatre has been honored with 18 Ovation Award nominations, the largest number of any intimate theatre for the 2018/19 season.  The Fountain’s nominations include Best Season for overall excellence.

The Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles, created to recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production, and design in the Greater Los Angeles area.

During the 2018-29 season, there were 278 total productions registered for the Ovation Awards from 124 different producing bodies, resulting in 199 total nominations for 64 distinct productions presented by 43 organizations. These productions were voted on by 272 Ovation Awards voters — vetted individuals from the Greater Los Angeles area who are working theatre professionals.

The Fountain Theatre received the following Ovation Award nominations:

BEST SEASON
Fountain Theatre
Cost of Living
Daniel’s Husband
Hype Man: a Break Beat Play

BEST PRODUCTION OF A PLAY (Intimate Theatre)
Cost of Living
Daniel’s Husband

ACTING ENSEMBLE OF A PLAY
Cost of Living
Daniel’s Husband

DIRECTION OF A PLAY
John Vreeke – Cost of Living

LEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY
Tim Cummings – Daniel’s Husband
Felix Solis – Cost of Living

LEAD ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Katy Sullivan – Cost of Living

FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Tobias Forrest – Cost of Living

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Jenny O’Hara – Daniel’s Husband
Xochitl Romero – Cost of Living

LIGHTING DESIGN (Intimate Theatre)
Chu-Hsuan Chang – Hype Man: A Break Beat Play
Jennifer Edwards – Daniel’s Husband
John Garofalo – Cost of Living

SCENIC DESIGN (Intimate Theatre)
Deanne Millais – Daniel’s Husband

SOUND DESIGN (Intimate Theatre)
Malik Allen – Hype Man: A Break Beat Play

VIDEO/PROJECTION DESIGN (Intimate Theatre)
Nicholas Santiago – Cost of Living

OVATIONS HONORS RECIPIENTS MUSIC COMPOSITION FOR A PLAY
Romero Mosley
Hype Man: A Break Beat Play

This year’s ceremony will be held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday, January 13th, 2020. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday, December 3rd, and full information can be found on OvationAwards.com.

The complete list of all nominees.

Actress Lesley Fera hails acclaimed play ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ as beautiful and timely

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Director Guillermo Cienfuegos finds family and forgiveness in ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’

Guillermo Cienfuegos

Director Guillermo Cienfuegos in the Fountain Cafe.

by Guillermo Cienfuegos

How the Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy, this great, Pulitzer Prize winning play by Stephen Adly Guirgis managed to fall into my hands, I’ll never know. But I’m grateful for it. I feel so fortunate to be given the opportunity. And to direct it with this cast, at this theatre, is an embarrassment of blessings.

First of all I’m drawn to how funny and true the play is. There’s no better way to impart to an audience some essential truths about what it is to be human than while you’re making them laugh. I find Guirgis’ gift of being able to show us these flawed and damaged people in such a funny and loving way very inspiring.

Also as a Cuban, the play puts me in mind of a lot of Catholic imagery from my youth, including Santeria traditions. It makes me think of the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God”. Those are the characters in this play. The world may see them as junkies and drunks and ex cons and other outsiders of society – but they’re just children of God.

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Matthew Hancock and Marisol Miranda.

I’m also drawn to the play because of my father, who I called Papi. My father was a lot like Pops, the main character of the play – he’s fighting wars on many fronts, the largest of which could be with his own ego. And he’s trying to hold on to whatever control over his life he still has. But it’s in the surrender that one wins and finds grace.

The play deals with a lot of big issues – grief, alcoholism, policing, gentrification. But I think it’s about family, forgiveness and redemption.

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Actor Montae Russell gets in the zone for ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ at the Fountain Theatre

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Montae Russell in “Between Riverside and Crazy” at the Fountain Theatre.

By Darlene Donloe

Montae Russell is well known throughout Los Angeles theater circles for playing meaty roles. He’s played Charlie “Bird” Parker in Bird Lives!, Memphis in Two Trains Running and Elmore in a production of King Hedley II. He also played Mister on Broadway in King Hedley II opposite Viola Davis and Leslie Uggams.

Up next for the veteran thespian is a complicated, determined man named Walter “Pops” Washington who has declared war on almost everything in the Stephen Adly Guirgis 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama Between Riverside and Crazy, opening October 19 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

Russell, a Pittsburgh native is ready to take on the role. While talking to him about the show and “Pops”, the 50-something, married (Tonia), father of one, walked around a local park to let the imagery of the play and the character “sink in.”  It’s a process, he said allows him to be “closer to where I need to be” when he hits the stage.

Russell’s first acting role came in the seventh grade when he played Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. His first professional play was in the off-Broadway production of Three Ways Home at the Astor Place Theater in New York.

Eventually he brought his talent to Los Angeles where he became a respected film, television and theater actor.

A highly sought after actor, Russell had to decide between doing August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Between Riverside and Crazy. He said it was a hard decision, but he read something in the “Pops” character that spoke to him.

In Between Riverside and Crazy, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis, ex-cop and recent widower Walter ‘Pops’ Washington has made a home for his newly paroled son in his sprawling, rent-controlled New York City apartment on Riverside Drive. But now the NYPD is demanding his signature to close an outstanding lawsuit, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed, and the church is on his back — leaving Pops somewhere between Riverside… and crazy.

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Montae Russell and Victory Anthony in “Between Riverside and Crazy”

I recently caught up with Russell to discuss his role in Between Riverside and Crazy.

DD:  In your own words, describe Between Riverside and Crazy.

MR: I really can’t describe it because I’m in the midst of it. Well, from my character’s perspective,  he was a cop who was shot by a white cop eight years ago. The cop overreacted when he saw black people in a bar. My character is in a battle with NYPD. He’s living in a rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. The landlord wants him out so he can charge more rent.

But my character is dug in. He’s not backing down.   His son is an ex-con. He is fighting for his son. Every father wants his son to become a man. He is also fighting a war with himself. He has war with a lot of people. He has a battle with the bottle and his body. He has stress and strife.  There are external forces and an internal battle within himself. Sometimes it’s not about annihilating your opponent. Sometimes you just have to sign a truce.

DD: In what way are you like Pop and in what way are you the furthest from Pop?

MR: I’m a fighter, but I don’t have as many wars. I have a stubborn streak. I don’t have multiple wars, though. I don’t have people coming at me as he does. But, I can understand what it would be like. I respect the character. I just fight differently. 

DD: Why did you want to play this part?

MR: When I read it, I cracked up. A lot of things about the character made me laugh. He is raging a war with God, or with his beliefs because of all the things that have happened. You can’t win that war.  It’s a very hilarious play. Pops is pulling no punches. He doesn’t care. He is the master of his domain. He’s a very funny cat. He’s not a rabble-rouser. He’s not an activist. He’s a conservative – but not in a social way – more of an interpersonal way. He’s a traditional man, an old school man. He comes from a time when you controlled your emotions.

DD: How did you go about developing Pop?

MR: It’s a day-by-day thing. We’ll be developing until the end of the play in December. Different stuff is revealed each time you crack open the script. There is constant tweaking.

He’s not funny, Ha, Ha. He’s funny concerning his perspectives. Living like that can cause problems. You have to give a fuck at some point. You have to give a fuck about something.

DD: Have you ever been between Riverside and crazy?

MR:  You would have to ask the people around me.

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Montae Russell, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Marisol Miranda, Matthew Hancock.

DD: By what criteria do you decide to do a show?

MR: It has to be a challenge. I have to think I can bring something to it. It’s about what speaks to me. I was supposed to do Gem of the Ocean. I was going to play Caesar. Both shows were going up at the same time. I opted to do this instead. It’s difficult to turn down a role like Caesar. It would have also been difficult to turn down this role.

DD: You’ve played a lot of characters. What role did you nail?

MR: I try to do that all the time. I enjoyed playing Memphis in Two Trains Running. August Wilson front-loads his characters with a lot of stuff they are dealing with. The character challenged me. It felt good that I concurred it. The stuff he has to live through. His backstory – all of that comes into the show.  You’re responsible for the backstory even if it doesn’t come up in the play.

DD:  How do you prepare to go on stage?  Any rituals?

MR: I gotta be at the theater at least 45 minutes before I’m supposed to be there. I have to have food in my stomach to power through the show. It’s just like a sporting event. You can’t keep running back to the locker room. I like to warm up my voice. I warm up my diction and I stretch.  I need to be by myself and get in my space. I like to get in my zone.

DD:  Why did you want to be an actor?

MR: A lot of people today don’t know what they want to do. I was blessed at 13 – that’s when I knew. From there, I got green lights all the way. One job led to another. August Wilson wrote my letter of recommendation to get into Rutgers. He reached back.

DD: What happens to you when you’re on stage?

MR: It allows you to go to another world. Your imagination has to buy it. It’s the same concept when doing a show. We are on stage being looked at by an audience. That to me is fun. It’s nice to get away from the real world and step into someone else’s shoes for a while.

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This post originally appeared on Donloe’s Lowdown

VIDEO: Actress Lesley Fera says ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ is “incredible.” Don’t miss it!

What’s so special about theater?

Brendan Kiley

What’s so special about theater? I’ve been asked that last question so many times, and asked it in return, never getting further than the theater enthusiast’s shopworn answer: “There’s something magical about seeing it live.”

Sure, sure. But why? What’s so damn magical?

This summer, I thought I caught the glimmer of an answer in a billboard for the food-delivery service DoorDash. A well-groomed man reclined on a couch, phone in hand, neon diner sign above his head. Below him, the pitch: “Order burgers without moving your buns.”

Theater, I realized, is the opposite of that. It’s everything our watch-at-home, extra-pepperoni-hold-the-olives culture of comfort, distraction and pseudo-control (in which we get to play with inches of difference, but never yardage) has been engineered to avoid.

ft dec 2018 night

Audiences arrive at The Fountain Theatre.

Theater is inconvenient (you must move your buns); it’s uncomfortable (at least airplanes have flight attendants you can flag down for pretzels); it’s puny for cultural capital (not the street cred of graffiti, nor the sophistication of symphonies); it’s economically silly (there are better ways to make money); it can be intensely claustrophobic and boring (can’t get up, can’t change the channel); and so on.

Compared to an evening of Netflix and Uber Eats, theater is downright risky: going somewhere strange to be a human, sitting with other humans, sharing nothing but air, space and a story. You might have to look at (and reckon with) things that make you squirm.

These discomforts can produce bizarre effects, and I’m enlisting two philosophers to help explore why. (My mother was a reader — I think she’d approve.)

The first, famed conservative Edmund Burke, who wrote a 1757 essay about the sublime.

“Sublime” is an exhausted word these hyper-accentuated days, when even mundane exchanges get exclamation marks (“hello!” thanks!” “bye!”) and superlatives (“he’s the worst,” “you’re the best,” “all the feels”). But it was a newish and special idea to 18th-century Europeans newly interested in the difference between the merely beautiful and the sublime.

Beautiful things, Burke argued in his essay, are safe and subordinate: a violet, a vase, a tamed landscape. (Think the pleasing colors and lines of a French vineyard.) But vast deserts? Storms at sea? Eerie ruins? Things we can’t control and aren’t useful, but still move us, are sublime.

Film is safe and subordinate — it cannot be sublime. Its camera work, even when “awesome,” is all manipulated arrangement of color and line. It is economically useful (Hollywood, Bollywood). And no matter how big the explosion or expensive the actor, it’s all tamed, disembodied representation — carefully edited shadows on the wall, infinitely reproducible, never adjustable. There’s no immediacy, no risk.

The immediacy, the event-ness of theater makes it more potent: I laugh harder in theaters than I do at movies. I bet I’ve logged more teary minutes (probably hours) in theaters than anywhere else — weddings and funerals included. And, as theatergoers are well aware, its potential for boredom is acute, serious business. It’s so real, some skillful artists use it as a tool, an audience tenderizer, lulling us and making us more sensitive for shocks to come.

actor spotlight

Why the potency of live-ness? Enter philosopher No. 2, Walter Benjamin, who had a word for this: aura.

His 1936 essay with a cumbersome title (“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”) thought through how the new technology of photography would change art. Super-simple distillation: Notre-Dame is unique, embodied. It has its own “aura … its unique existence at the place it happens to be.” If it burns, it’s gone. But a photograph of Notre-Dame is infinitely reproducible, a disembodied image you can pin to your favorite wall. Burn all the photos you like — there will be copies, aura-free, floating around.

“That which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art,” Benjamin wrote. His big example: The difference between theater and film.

Pulp Fiction

“Pulp Fiction” (Miramax)

Theater oozes aura and is irreproducible — not just from one “Hamlet” to another, but from night to night. “Pulp Fiction” will always be “Pulp Fiction” no matter where in the world you go, the camera an absolute dictator of your attention. (Benjamin points out that watching a movie isn’t watching acting — it’s watching editing.) Film is an object; theater is an event.

And while theater restricts your mind’s menu of distractions (no phones, no fast forward), it also provides a kind of liberation: an invitation to focus on the immediate present, free to move your attention wherever, from a gesture on stage to the lighting grid above your head. It’s like the strange relief you might feel on an airplane when you can’t use your phone but before the movies start. In one way, you’re stuck. In another, you’re finally unstuck.

Philosophical games aside, loving something like theater in the age of Netflix requires an element of visceral, irrational amour fou. Some people love the precision of a good script, others are in love with certain actors.

Here’s mine: I am incurably attracted to that moment when the house lights dim on a roomful of strangers, just before the stage lights flare up on other strangers who are about to become characters.

There’s a radical possibility in that dark interval, that gap. Doesn’t matter whether I’m in a cramped basement or razzle-dazzle show palace. Doesn’t matter what exciting 7 p.m. situation I’ve torn myself from to trudge to another damned play. The promise of that interval is the same. We’re all there together, for a common purpose: to let the rest of the world drift into the background like mental wallpaper, to see what’ll happen next to these people in this room. That is, to us.

You can only find that level of heightened group communion in a few places: theater, sports and church. People have been gathering to do those three things for thousands of years — and they aren’t going to stop. Even if the regional theaters go bankrupt, nation-states collapse and Broadway becomes a barely remembered relic sunk beneath the rising Atlantic Ocean, people will still gather to stop time and perform stories. It suspends the aloneness.

In January of 2010, my mother was dying. She wasn’t totally-bedridden-dying, not yet — but she was getting there. We didn’t know it then, of course, but she had exactly one year of life left.

Electra

Marya Sea Kaminski as Electra, Seattle Shakespeare.

That month, I also saw a gut-churning, bone-achingly sorrowful performance of Electra. I was baffled, had to see it again and, for reasons I only dimly understood, bought my parents tickets to join me, to watch this live, raw, blistering expression of a grief we all privately carried and could barely comprehend, much less express. But in Electra, it was there. We could behold it — examine it. Why, in that particular moment, did I find such solace, such emotional solidarity, onstage?

It was something only theater could do.

Brendan Kiley is a Seattle Times arts and culture reporter. This post originally appeared in the Seattle Times.

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