Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Stage Is Littered With Fragments of Shattered Expectations

There’s a whole set of expectations that accompany you, as an audience member, when you step into a theater. You’ll keep quiet during the performance. You won’t attempt to engage the actors in conversation unless they ask you to. You will not ask the people on stage if it’s over yet. And though plenty may come to mind, you most certainly won’t offer suggestions as to how the performance might be improved - at least not in the moment.

These are pretty reasonable expectations, so much so that you might not even think about them most of the time. Except, that is, when you get handed a permission slip to ignore them.

The Ash and I were brewing beer on New Year’s Day, along with the generous assistance from our friends Bill and Brandon. The boys were thoroughly uninterested in what we were doing, having taken the measure of it and determined that it stood to benefit them in no way at all. And then their friend, Neighbor Kid, came over, and the three of them went off and got lost in Little Boy Imagination Land, a place which, if I remember correct, is populated by dragons, tanks, and mermaids with snakes for hair and flamethrowers in their boobs. Among others.

So there we are, four adults standing outside around the brew pot, each of us with a brew in our hand. One of us was probably stirring. Neighbor Kid sticks his head out the back door and tells us that we need to come in and see their play. I misunderstand for a second, think I’m hearing him tell us we need to come in and watch them play, which, what? Why do we want to...? OH, play noun, not verb. Though, now that I mention it, there are plenty of philosophical discussions to be had regarding the relationship between play the noun and play the verb, what amount of the verb goes into the noun, what the noun actually is. I’ve watched them happen, read the treatises. Or was it a manifesto? Right now, as I type this, as you read this, someone somewhere is declaring, "it's a play, not a show!" It’s sort of like “Stairway to Heaven” - it’s never not happening somewhere.

We adults file into the house and into the living room where Neighbor Kid and our boys are waiting, their excitement to reveal their creation to us causing their skin to bristle with energy and their hair to stand on end. Neighbor Kid, because he is the oldest, gives the signal, and the play begins.

It starts with my oldest rolling a bowling ball and knocking over a row of pins. Then a remote control truck races onstage and knocks him over, then zips around the playing area. My youngest bounces in on a horse and attacks the truck. People are falling over. Dialogue is minimal. It’s all very performance art. And through it all, we in the audience are speaking, not only to one another in unhushed tones, but also to the three players. We’re asking aloud what it is that we are seeing. We're cracking wise. We’re offering our learned assessments. We’re pleading with them to stop bashing the truck into the piano. At one point, someone asks, “Okay, is that it?” Can you imagine? But the kids seem not to mind our jibber-jabber one bit. Though they would have been perfectly entitled to do so, not a single one of them turns to us and snarls “Respect the fourth wall!” 
We applaud them from a standing position and they bow.

Children. Expectations. Explosions.


Cheryl said...

Timely and well-written piece about the thoughts that have been flying around in my brain these days.

sybil law said...

I sit through plays alllll the time. Some are funny, many are not - but they're all acted out with gusto and laughter, so you've gotta appreciate that - I guess. :)