Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mnemonic was 'Too Good' for Me…

Sunday, I went to see Quantum Theatre's production of "Mnemonic." I give a lot of credit to Quantum Theatre for taking a chance. Performing another company's work was risky, and it didn't quite work for me. This was a play devised by an entire production company, written by the actors and representing that original production company.

As a writer and audience member, my wife can attest that I like some "odd" things. I respect adventurous writing and innovative staging. I've seen plays in which the actors never take the stage, and some that were immersive media experiences. I've enjoyed plays that are in multiple languages, reminding me that good actors and staging transcend language barriers (but I still tried to translate what I could). I've written plays in which mime was essential, and some that are surely abstract.

But you must never forget that people need to feel engaged by a play. Writing shouldn't push the audience or readers away. I don't fall into the camp that "art must offend" nor do I believe that "challenging" the audience has no limits. You can overshoot the challenge, and then you're left with empty seats.

Reviews such as this are a problem for theatre: 
Based on a small random sample of audience response, I might say "Mnemonic" is too good for its audience, except that the Quantum audience is as good as it gets in Pittsburgh (adventurous, intelligent, willing).
Stage review: Quantum traces memory, mysteries
When you consider a work "too good" for an educated, informed audience including professors from excellent universities, it might be the work that is the problem. The acting was solid enough and the staging was excellent, but the play didn't speak to me — and judging by others, it didn't speak to them, either. The play feels like it was meant for a specific place, time, and production company. It didn't make the move, and maybe that's an interesting question in itself.

I can't say it was a bad experience, watching "Mnemonic." I can't say it was wonderful, either. It was "okay" — which isn't going to expand the audience for theatre. I'm not suggesting theatre has to be pop to be a success, but it can't be "okay" and thrive.

When someone like me, a fan of the surrealists, modern art, and experimental music, is left wondering "What was the point?" that's not theatre that's "too good" for the audience. (And yes, absurdist theatre makes the point that there is no point… but "Mnemonic" wasn't an absurdist work.) 
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  1. That review can really alienate an audience. It sounds like it was written by someone close to the production and not at all helpful.

    It's nice to hear theatre reviews from you. Something a little different!

  2. This blog (Inklings of...) is my little writing haven. Everyone needs a nice place to reflect.