- Unbeliebable: White House turns Bieber petition response into immigration screed
- Obama signs law denying Iran ambassador’s visa, but says law is ‘advisory’
- Mich. judge to laughing convicted killer: ‘I hope you die in prison’
- Man charged in Kansas City-area highway shootings
- Keystone XL pipeline still on hold after State Dept. decision
- Fla. man charged with killing 16-month-old son to play Xbox undisturbed
- Drones from the deep: Pentagon develops ocean-floor attack robots
- Michigan mayor slaps back atheists’ try to erect ‘reason station’ at city hall
- PHILLIPS: Where is the conservative establishment?
- 7.5-magnitude earthquake shakes southern Mexico
‘How Theater Failed America’ pokes fun at show biz
American theater is in such dire straits and so unrelated to our daily lives, it makes print media seem like a Twitter update in comparison. How did live theater become the cultural equivalent of the pay phone? Gifted monologist Mike Daisey, who wowed audiences last summer with his brainiac "If You See Something Say Something," takes on this taboo topic with scorching anger, humor and heart in his solo piece, "How Theater Failed America."
Mr. Daisey does not deliver his dire pronouncements from on high - from the beginning, he mans up and admits that he is as guilty of killing theater for the average person as any artistic director who programmed a season that included a yearlong salute to Sartre, "Ain't Misbehavin'" during Black History Month, and, as an attempt to pander to young audiences, a rap version of "Private Lives" featuring runners-up from "A Shot of Love With Tila Tequila" - and then wondered why the shows played to empty houses.
"We did. We failed America." Mr. Daisey states before launching into a two-hour comic rant on self-immolating theater institutions, the donor-driven mania for colossal cathedrals of culture that wind up being artistically vacant, and the notion that regional theaters have gotten better than any corporation at outsourcing jobs.
He blames regional theaters for making actors the latter-day Okies, roaming from one gig to the next with the job security and pay rate of the Joads. He blames management for creating top-heavy institutions with huge marketing and development staffs and small or nonexistent companies of actors, writers and artistic talent. He blames a lack of community within the theater and little or no connection to the public at large.
Mr. Daisey also blames himself for falling in love with acting in college and doing anything he could to stay in theater and keep performing. His invective is interspersed with clear-eyed reminiscences about his career that are at times hilarious (youthful idealists who started their own businesses will howl at his anecdote about forming a repertory company, "Theater on the Pond," in the wilds of eastern Maine).
Painfully revelatory is his descent into the unrelenting grayness of depression and what brought him back to life, helping a local high school win a regional one-act play festival.
His solution to shrinking audiences and a staggering lack of interest by most Americans seems charmingly naive - bringing back the repertory system with companies of actors and artistic teams who make art together. That may create a sense of community within the theater, but will it fill empty seats?
That theater is worth saving (if for no other reason than to give critics somewhere to go at night) is a given. The tough question Mr. Daisey asks - and no theater head wants to hear in this lousy economy - is how do we move from a cultural climate of fear and allergy to change to revitalizing an art form so that is has a future and not merely a fabled past.
"How Theater Failed America," created and performed by Mike Daisey
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW
8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Through Jan. 18.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS
About the Author
Women losing coverage under Obamacare, too
- Scalia to students on high taxes: At a certain point, 'perhaps you should revolt'
- Former Ranger breaks silence on Pat Tillman death: I may have killed him
- Special Forces' suicide rates hit record levels casualties of 'hard combat'
- Feds approve powdered alcohol; 'Palcohol' available later this year
- EDITORIAL: Mark Warner running scared?
- Army goes to war with National Guard, seizes Apache attack helicopters
- U.S. Navy to turn seawater into jet fuel
- EDITORIAL: More Lerner smoking-gun emails at IRS
- Nancy Pelosi washes immigrants' feet in humble Holy Week act then promotes on Twitter
- Former Blue Angels commander relieved of duty for alleged misconduct
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.