Wednesday, May 11, 2011

great divorce | artistic director notes

Evan Frayne in THE GREAT DIVORCE.   Photo: Emily Cooper

Has it struck you how many PT shows in the past couple seasons are about life and death, heaven and hell, judgment and eternity? Refuge Of Lies, Playland, even the vast majority of the parables John Michael Tebelak chose for the misleadingly cheery Godspell. Most especially the Giurgis plays, The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot and Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train. Now that I come to think of it, the same preoccupation spills over into next season - our Christmas Carol isn't so far removed from any of these other theatrical investigations of the nexus point between what happens in our lives and what will happen once they end.

I wish I could claim to be a canny enough artistic director to have planned it that way, but I can't - mostly I just notice these things once they're already happening.

To be honest, I'm not a guy who normally spends a lot of time thinking about death, or judgment, or heaven and hell. For me, it's mostly a matter of what's happening here, now: even at my most religious, it's all about how to treat people, how to connect with eternity in the everyday, how to maybe make a difference, how to live out what an ordinary day. Not much pie in the sky, sweet by-and-by. And, depending on grace, not a lot of preoccupation with judgment or damnation.

But that's the brilliance of this masterful reconsideration William Blake's "marriage of heaven and hell." As much as C.S. Lewis's voracious, utterly unique imagination plays with the question of what it might all be like "on the other side," that's still only a framing device, an entry point, into what we humans are like on this side - at our profoundest moments, and our most mundane. As in his masterful Screwtape Letters, Lewis is unrelenting in his consideration of human narcissism, pettiness, arrogance and quiet cruelty: he traces the seeds of hell in the most minute of earthly choices, while finding room in heaven for the most monstrous of sinners. He writes about humans who choose, gradually, perhaps unknowingly, to become monsters - and others who find other ways.

That's what I love about theatre. We don't set out to tell anybody anything in particular: we just look for the wildest, widest variety of amazing, peculiar, fresh stories we can get excited about telling. Worlds we feel like exploring. And then what happens? Often as not, it turns out that the stories themselves bring things we never imagined: they end up having something to tell us, in the process of making them. We get schooled - challenged, provoked, enriched, confused, rearranged - by the very things we create.

There's no life like it.

Ron Reed,
Artistic & Executive Director
(I prefer to think of it as A&E director. I'm picturing me, with my clipboard and an arts and entertainment t-shirt, at the summer camp of life. "Anyone who wants to work on tonight's skit from Chekhov, meet in the craft building after lunch...")

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