Tuesday, March 25, 2008

You can't smoke onstage in Colorado

In Colorado — alone among the 50 states — you cannot legally smoke so much an an herbal cigarette onstage. The state's ban on smoking in indoor places is not restricted to tobacco products. Being in a play doesn't provide legal cover, either.

"In its ruling, the [Colorado] Court of Appeals said that theaters were already in the business of make-believe, and that barring smoking was essentially no different from barring the use of illegal drugs or real violence.
"'Murders are not committed, actors do not fire live bullets at each other or at the audience, the theater is not set afire to illustrate the burning of Rome in *Julius Caesar,*' the court said. 'The audience is aware that the scenes are not real.'"

Which leads to some thoughts about stage realism — which itself needs to be selective. (Here Bobo begins to philosophize.) Within the bounds of the fiction, keep real the things that help maintain that fiction. Otherwise, trust to the audience's imagination.
If you need a working kitchen sink and working refrigerator and iced tea with real ice in it to maintain the ilusion of a kitchen-table conversation on a sweltering day, then by all means make your set designer and prop master make those things happen.
But if the conversation could usefully be regarded as universal, then dispense with the details and just have two actors sitting at a table.
Theater can pull off the dream-like: Best friends morph into one's parents and then into strangers, and it's sudden and has the startling reality of dreams. (Contrast the fuzzy-bordered, wavy cinematography and/or sepia-tinged scenes with bad wigs of so many go-back-into-memory scenes on TV or in movies.)

Can theater "beat" the movies at realism or at spectacle? No.
Given the close-up shot, can theater even beat the movies at intimacy? No.
But can theater beat movies at farce and comedy? Quite often: Being in a room, present with hundreds of others, laughing at people who appear smaller than ourselves way down there onstage (as opposed to having 30-foot-tall cinematic faces) is more conducive to humor, yes.
And theater can beat the movies at partaking in ritual, in dream-like transformations that viewers participate in with their own imaginations, as opposed to special-effect changes that were created by some guy in a computer lab and imposed upon the audience as an already fully finished product.

Interplayers' *The Clean House*: a so-so production, but what a script! Characters blended into others; brutal realities were interrupted by dream sequences; characters addressed us directly; life's simultaneous joy and sadness is something we were invited to participate in and reflect upon.
They'll never make a movie out of that.



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