…is there any bigger compliment to a piece of theatre? Especially a piece of LaBute…
As reported by Daniel Lehman in Blogstage:
In the middle of a performance of Neil LaBute’s reasons to be pretty this weekend, actress Marin Ireland ([below] right) was reportedly the target of one male audience member’s anger when she delivered a scathing monologue.
During her first act monologue, in which Ireland’s character Steph embarrasses her ex-boyfriend (played by Thomas Sadoski) with a list of humiliating facts and all the things she finds wrong with him, a male audience member stood up and began verbally assaulting the actress, including calling her a “bitch” among other expletives. (Reports of the incident are quick to note that this was not part of the performance.)
Ireland and Sadoski, who shared the stage at the time, continued the scene as if nothing had happened. Security has been raised at the theater in response to the incident.
Nice work Marin. Nailed it.
Love it. Seriously so good. I’ve read this play and it elicited a similar reaction in me. Can’t believe there’s going to be three Labute options in Vancouver in May.
OK, so let me get this straight. Because an audience member got infuriated by a part of the play, that makes it worthwhile? Neil LaBute is a purveyor of nihilistic, cynical slime. Adolescent. And I’m sure there is somebody with a 16-year-old mind who will read this comment and say, “Hey, anybody who can cause such a strong reaction must be doing something right.” Idiocy.
I’d be curious to know which of Labute’s plays you’ve read Scott – have you read reasons to be pretty? It’s by far his best work – as may reviewers have stated… I’m not a fan of theatre for the sake of being shocking – but I’m sure similar things were said of David Mamet when he first started writing.
Hey Scott. I’m not really making any commentary on the worth or maturity of the playwright. I do think it’s awesome that a piece of art had such a visceral affect on one of its audience that it compelled him to engage with a character as if she were a real person in the room. Regardless of the mental state of the audience member, that’s an instant review. You know you’re a good actor when your work can push buttons that size.
During the premiere run of Extremities (another play widely considered ‘cynical’ in its day) in 82 James Russo was apparently so convincing in his portrayal of Farah Fawcett’s would-be rapist that audience members attacked him on stage. Yes, most uncomfortable for all involved, but if I was that actor I’d put that on my resume.
I second THENEXTSTAGE’s comments. It says a lot when you can get an audience to react physically and emotionally to a play, because it’s incredibly rare. And no, an audience reacting like that doesn’t mean the play is brilliant, but I think the point is that there was a perfect storm of audience/performer emotional connection and that’s exciting.
Yes, there was a reaction — to what end? Or perhaps it doesn’t matter — we’ve gotten to a point where getting any reaction at all is seen as being a triumph. Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they used to book the villain in melodrama and throw fruit at him. Must be the sign of a quality theatrical experience, right?
Actually, I think it’s the opposite. We’ve gotten to a point where theatre rarely elicits a reaction at all. So anything that gets people talking about it and its power, as this has done, is indeed a triumph. Nobody’s advocating yelling at a cast member or throwing something at them, we’re advocating theatre of a quality that makes the audience feel something.
That for me is where I fall on the topic of the definitively subjective question of a ‘quality theatrical experience.’
We need higher standards. If this is a triumph, we need to set the bar higher.
Oh, most definitely. Truer words were never written.
I don’t think anyone’s saying that this is a triumph – but Scott you seemed to say earlier that Neil Labute’s work is not worthwhile – whether or not an audience gets riled up or not… I had the opportunity to see a production of his Shape of Things – and loved the response from the audience with Evelyn’s monologue near the end of the play – it certainly shocked people – and I heard several people discussing it on the way out. Does the smaller, less public reaction mean that his work is more worthwhile? What would be an appropriate, worthwhile response to someone’s work?
Let me ask you a question: as an artist, did you find the argument that Evelyn made — that art is more important than decency or humanity — acceptable? As a portrayal of an artist, did you find Evelyn admirable? Did you value the message of the play — that artists cannot be trusted, that human beings will feign love in order to play an elaborate and disgusting joke — something the world needed to hear? What contribution did it make to the world? LaBute is like one of those elementary school playground twerps who runs up kids and goes ” Wanna see something really gross????” The desire to shock is childish — the desire to shock to no good purpose is appalling.
I think you are sort of missing what’s going on here. The reaction is not the point. The point is the effect this play had on its audience. The reaction is just a byproduct of that effect, and be different in everyone.
Isn’t a big part of the point of live performance to affect people? It’s just rare that we get to see a tangible measurement of that. So your response to this should have little to do with liking or not liking LaBute. The fact that these artists’ work had a major effect on their audience IS a triumph, in terms of what they set out to do.
I’ll answer the questions Scott – even if you have yet to answer mine.
I don’t think that art is more important than decency or humanity, no. I think that often times artists get so caught up in their “work” that they forget about the people that they are attempting to create the work for. I think Adam has a line near the end of the show something like “or are you just puking up your own little neuroses and calling it art,” I think there’s too much of that these days. You obviously feel that that’s what Neil Labute does – I don’t – and I’m sure we could both find many people to support both our sides.
I also don’t think Evelyn is particularly admirable, however I must agree that some of what she did had a positive effect. Adam became a fitter person, a happier person, a healthier person throughout the course of the play. He loved himself more and had a better outlook on his life – hell he finally goes after the girl that he wanted in the first place. Of course, Evelyn may reduce him to his old self at the end of the play – but we don’t know that for sure. Perhaps he becomes a bitter person – or perhaps he becomes a better person to show that he is “better” than her.
And I must disagree that the point of the play is that artists can’t be trusted. I don’t think that people after watching the play are afraid to fall in love with an artist… there are messed up people out there – and I feel that’s what Labute is doing – holding up a light to the less desirable parts of our society.
And you still have yet to answer my question… what do you feel is an appropriate “response” to good work? What are you hoping to elicit from your audience?
Like you, Scott, I’m not a huge LaBute fan either. I have grown increasingly bored by his method of twisting the moral knife. We’ve seen so many layers of human indecency in his work and beyond that I don’t personally gravitate to his plays anymore. And furthermore, I agree that we need higher standards than noticeable audience disgust at a fictional people.
But Scott, you seem to take this story as a personal affront, when it’s not. Some people like LaBute (or even Gilman or Kane) and take those stories and characters and messages to heart. This audience member’s reaction is nothing more than an interesting look at where we are as a theatergoing public. And in some ways, you’re right, it’s a bit sad.
Your attack on LaBute, however, is self-righteous and off-putting. You call his work childish, but your insults come off in this forum as immature intellectual bullying.
Moral outrage often comes off as off-putting. I believe that art has a moral responsibility to our society, that we should use the enormous power of art to improve the world, not add to the slime. Further, I have too often seen artists justify repugnant acts by claiming that the outrage they provoked justified what they did, and to that I say nonsense. Provoking revulsion is an easy task — provoking thought, empathy, insight is much harder.
So in answer to vancouvertheatredirector, an “appropriate” response to work is empathy, emotional involvement, reflection, growth. There is a perhaps apocalyptic story about an audience member on the frontier who shot the actor playing Iago as a villain. That is a denial of the basic premise of the theatre, which is that there is a “willing suspension of disbelief,” not a sense that what is happening onstage is real. This reaction from an audience member is a sign of stupidity, not a triumph of theatre. (And yes, thenextstage used the word tirumph: “So anything that gets people talking about it and its power, as this has done, is indeed a triumph.”)
So it sounds like what you want to see on stage Scott is empathetic characters and shows that will ultimately change society or better it… but can someone watch a play like “The Woodsman” and feel empathy for that character even though he is ultimately very unlikeable? Can someone watch Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” and feel empathy for the people who were responsible for killing American presidents? These aren’t likable people – they’re not even nice people.
Not unlike Labute’s characters. Labute says he knows people like the ones he writes about. Hell, I know people similiar to the people that Labute writes about… I feel sorry for Adam in Shape of Things, God I feel sorry for Evelyn in Shape of Things – how someone can possibly be so manipulative is awful – but I wonder how she got there – and if she’ll ever come back. There are people like that out in the world though – it may not be uplifting – but it’s the truth.
First of all, you made a leap: I was asked what the appropriate RESPONSE would be; you translated that into empathetic characters, which is not what I said.
“Assassins” is an interesting example — the characters are not admirable, but the point of the play, which is driven home within the play itself, is that our society’s focus on fame leads directly to these characters. So what is the point of “The Shape of Things”? By which I mean “what does the PLAY say, not what can be twisted out of it through interpretation.” Perhaps the question is: “What does the play DO?”
What “The Shape pf Things” DOES is play a cruel practical joke not only on the central character, but on the audience itself, which is convinced it is watching the unfolding of a love story, only to have the string pulled at the end. From an Aristotelian point of view, one might argue that it is an example of reversal and recognition not unlike Oedipus finding out that he is the murderer of Laius and the husband of his mother. However, the difference between the two is that unlike Oedipus, the protagonist (the person whose motives drive the action) of “The Shape of Things” is Evelyn, not Adam, and she learns nothing, has no remorse, no doubt. What “The Shape of Things’ DOES is provoke a horrified shiver, combined with a guilty giggle when the trick is revealed. It uses an extreme method to provoke a trivial reaction.
What are we to learn from this play? Never to trust a woman? That artists are immoral?
LaBute’s claim that he knows people like this is beside the point. The theatre is not about reality, but about truth. Aristotle made that point when he said that poetry was superior to history, because history shows what did happen, poetry what ought to have happened. This is a recognition, reflected in his argument with Plato, that art affects people, and that as artists we should be responsible for the effects our art has. It isn’t enough that something be “real,” it must be “true,” and it should contribute to the betterment of those who watch it.
I know this is not a fashionable idea, responsibility. We’re happy to talk about that on grant applications, but when we actually create we think there are no claims that can be made on us as artists — we must be “free” to pursue our “vision.” I say that all of us — not just artists, but businessmen, farmers, scientists, everybody — has a personal responsibility to make the world better through our actions. Not transform the world in one fell swoop, but to make whatever small contribution we can. LaBute seems to see his role as adding a little ugliness to the world, as if there wasn’t enough already.
Although the subject matter of the show may indeed be distasteful, I feel without even having seen it that the debate its provoked makes it worth seeing. I love theatre
Me too, Ry-Guy, me too.
Theatre really is a playwright’s medium, isn’t it? I find this fascinating that a conversation that started about an actor’s work and her audience turned into a debate on the relative merits of Neil Labute’s writing style and intention.
How do we create work that causes this much polarized passion without resorting to shock tactics?
Scott, you ask “What contribution did it make to the world?”
I don’t think I’m prepared to tackle it’s contribution to the entire world, but I can tell you what contribution The Shape of Things made to my life: it made me really think about whether I felt artists can justify doing something that would otherwise be unacceptable by calling it art. I feel that both extremes answers to this question are unappealing, and I find that very interesting.
If art is not allowed to push boundaries of acceptability, it seems to me that the ability for art to cause positive change is severely limited. We’ll just be stuck with oil paintings of lighthouses and sappy romantic comedies (both of which can be valuable and positive, but are fairly limited in their impact). On the other extreme, obviously art cannot justify murder, rape, etc.
So where do you draw the line? The Shape of Things doesn’t give an answer, but it gets one asking the question, and I think that that is very valuable.
I don’t think the fact that it uses ugliness to raise this question rather than beauty is a reason to reject it out of hand. Unless of course, you think art must be beautiful, in which case this argument will go nowhere since I disagree, and I find it unlikely that either of us will change our minds about that. The “ugliness” of The Shape of Things mirrors the “ugliness” of Evelyn’s manipulation of Adam, which for me made the question even more complex. The issue isn’t just discussed within the plot of the play, but the manipulative effect of the play on the audience raises the issue again, and for me at least, makes it more personal and immediate. Something I have to grapple with right away.
One of the roles I played in Judith Thimpson’s Lion in the Streets back in Ontario in the 90’s was that of Eddy who rapes and belittles fiance…
After the show, I would go out to the lobby to meet guests etc. and I was amazed that women would not even speak to me. They looked at me and saw all that they hated in the character, and often took some time to relax and realize that I was just an actor playing a role and that I was actually a nice guy in real life. To this day, I consider that the best compliment I could have received as an actor.
Kudos and congrats to Marin for eliciting the response that she did. That’s the best review you’ll ever get!
This is great! Not for the actors on stage, obviously, but for their performance and moreover for the playwright. As long as the audience gets the play, I don’t care if they like the characters. I have succeeded if the characters engage the audience. Is she interesting? Can you take your eyes off of him? Do you want to hug him or throw rocks at her?
I had the good fortune of dealing with an outraged audience at a talk back a few years ago. After the production of this same play, a woman ran out of the theatre sobbing, a tearful man approached me with his confession, and another man called my hero “a total bitch.” I was so happy.
And that’s exactly why audiences are shrinking. Our artists think they’ve done something if they make somebody upset. Well, I have news for you: my teenaged son used to infuriate the hell out of me, which does not make him an artist. The question is: to what end? Outrage is easy; self-reflection is hard.
“Outrage is easy.” That statement mirrors “Anyone could paint that!” It’s easier said than done. I don’t know if you know how truly hard it is to make someone truly upset about a situation or theme you’ve presented on stage. Is it easy to piss off your audience with bad theater? Absolutely! Is it easy to antagonize your audience by throwing things at them and threatening them. Not as easy as you’d think! (I’ve tried this many times!) But is it easy to get an audience member to become either A) so invested in what a character is saying/doing that the audience member emotionally responds or B) so invested in the director’s choices as to feel offended or angered by the political message? I doubt it.
Again, does having a person storm out = great theater? No. Does having this discussion mean the play was “worth it just for the conversation?” No. But you position yourself as not only the keeper of many facts, but the projector of many opinions that you have confused as facts. You don’t like LaBute. Great, but that has nothing to do with THENEXTSTAGE’s point that it’s actually RARE to get an audience to experience a play so viscerally. Who cares what it’s about. It’s exciting to find those moments, learn from them, build on them and hope there will be more in the future. Hopefully by a playwright you actually like. But please don’t say it’s easy to create outrage. It is not. And like my painter friend once told a critic who claimed anyone can paint a monochrome: “Well, paint one and let us all see your proof.”
I position myself as someone who thinks that prompting such reaction ought to have a purpose. As a cause for triumph, it is a pretty low bar.
Here’s an interesting take on all of this (and it includes a link to Joey Rizzolo’s controversial song): http://www.nyneofuturists.org/site/index.php?/site/blog/shocker_or_untitled_with_semantics/
I can effect people by punching them. If I’m trained, I might even damage them in a way that is really difficult to accomplish.
Oh, bother: “affect”.
As I’ve said here and elsewhere: I think Scott Walters is generally suspicious of artists and their motives. It boils down to that.
This idea that there are acceptable goals for artists, and other goals that are offensive or sophomoric is just simply judgmental and controlling. The point is to encourage more art, with all its jagged edges. Any point of view that believes firmly that art should only have a “positive” impact is, perhaps, limiting the meaning of the word positive.
If you repeat a lie often enough, Matt, maybe it will be accepted as truth.
The idea that all human beings, artists or not, have not only rights but responsibilities, and that it is every human being’s charge to contribute something to the Greater Good is a common part of Perrenial Wisdom. Unfortunately, artists, like businessmen, have adopted American individualism as their platform. Pretty sad.
Evelyn was the protagonist? Sheesh, no wonder you don’t like that play … Your interpretation would be a horrendous production to watch ending with the “point” that you have stated. However, Adam being given the title of protagonist, since he goes through a change, ends the play with a much more fulfilling message of what is possible for us all.
Sorry, I know the conversation has evolved, but that really stuck out to me.
The protagonist is the character whose motives are driving the action — it carries no moral baggage. Clearly, Evelyn is driving the action. Iago is the protagonist of “Othello” as well. It is play analysis.