Reviewer’s Views Too Lofty for Reality
Scott Collins quite simply gives himself away as an avant-garde traditionalist when he states that the All-U-Can-Eat Players production of Jean Genet’s “The Balcony” should have been “carried to a wild and totally illogical extreme. . . .” (“A Watchable Show From ‘The Balcony,’ ” Calendar, July 22). That is how this play is often performed, with the accompanying criticism that the play is illogical and hard to follow. This is a disservice to Genet, who wrote a dense play, but not an illogical one.
One of the great theatrical traps, and one that Collins appears to have fallen into, is the baffling and recurring error to consider it very hip to present challenging plays in a way that baffles the audience, not for any purpose that the playwright aspired to, but simply for the notoriety of presenting something unfathomable. Instead of letting the play, however absurd or complex, tell its story, companies have felt compelled to throw the truth to the wind and garnish these plays with all sorts of extraneous and unnecessary baggage, effectively alienating their audience and defeating the playwright’s main goal: to tell the story.
There is a school of thought, predominantly among theater critics, that avant-garde theater should only be understood by it, and that if a theater company presents these plays in a way that is understandable to the general public, there is something wrong. I call this theatrical elitism at its worst.
To say that our production needs to be more illogical defies the very powerful truth at work in this play. Deadly serious power games and people hiding behind their illusions, especially during times of crisis, is as timely as tomorrow’s Los Angeles Times. Our adaptation and production of Genet’s masterpiece focused on the reality that Genet offers, clearly and concisely, with the gloriously heightened language, imagery and humor that is inherent in the script. If that is, as Collins states, “bland (and) slightly campy,” then he hasn’t been paying attention, either to Genet’s writing or to the world outside, which frighteningly mirrors Genet’s nightmare of a world crumbling, and the sometimes pathetic, sometimes comic ways people hide from that nightmare.
Genet stated, in his own criticism of some of the “wild and illogical” productions of “The Balcony,” that “everything should be treated with the utmost delicacy. Now, instead of making the play noble, it was vulgarized. . . .” In other words, to do this play in the manner that Collins feels necessary, we should have veered away (as many others have) from the world that the playwright created.
In closing, let me quote Genet once more, in his notes on the 1960 version of “The Balcony,” on the subject of taking his characters and his words too far from the real world: " . . . rocketed up into an abstract sky and then stuck there, discomfited and deflated, to figure in deformed constellations. Disembodied, they become untouchable. How can we approach them, love, live them, if they are dispatched so far away?”