Saturday, May 12, 2007

Like a Child Craving Attention

My esteemed friend and colleague Rob Kendt has something interesting, slightly chastising and admirably concise to say about the end of this review in Time Out New York. Now, I am loathe to criticize my fellow critics, especially those that are very intelligent, often thoughtful, well-educated, and not given to fits or fusillades of unnecessary vituperation. But in this particular case, not only is the phrase "religion is bad theater for stupid people" blisteringly...well, stupid, but it is also incalculably reductive and dismissive and selfishly agenda-driven and pissily caustic and megalomaniacal. And it is also -- all right, here I'm probably going to get into trouble -- a kind of super-supercilious demand for attention; it's a baby-at-the-hi-chair statement that screams and caterwauls like a needy 2-year-old: "Look at me! Look at me! Pay attention to me!" Now, you just go ahead and shoot me if you don't like my characterization -- especially in light of some of the things I've said about the religious right in some of the posts down below -- but to diss religion is, I feel, as egregious and inherently immoral and ultimately pompous as to believe that religion should be used to malign and hijack our cherished American freedoms. If Stewie Griffin was a theatre critic, "religion is bad theater for stupid people" is the kind of statement he would make, except that it probably wouldn't be funny (heheheheheh, Lois). I also do not believe Stewie would have placed that statement at the end of the review, where it might not necessarily be read or fully digested, but would have had the temerity to put it up top where it could defended -- if you assume it really could be.

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Gabriel Mckee said...

Hear, hear! The TONY review entirely missed the point of Church, which was intended to show that that kind of attack on religion is false and wrong-headed.

JRS said...

Okay, I understand that many religions, especially Catholicism and Hinduism, have a certain undeniable theatricality. But as someone who has spent the weekend in bat mitzvah associated temple gatherings, watching people be moved to tears as they sang out with the congregation, I think it's a bit reductive and unfair to both theatre and religion to hypothesize that they can occupy similar places for people (stupid or otherwise). While I might be too jaded and cynical and post-post to share in the experience of organized religion myself, it's not like the theatre is offering access to a comparable catharsis and/or community.

As fully grounded as the theatre is in its tradition of voyeurism, it just can't offer the sort of participatory ecstasy that a good religious service can have. There are groups like Poland's Gardzienice and the Grotowski Workcenter in Pontedera, Italy that try to blur the lines between theatre and religious experience but I have as hard of time swallowing their work as I do the ceremonies of most organized religions.

I have not seen (nor am I likely to see) Church, if only because I find myself much more attracted to quasi-religious experiences at theatre events that are fully free of the trappings of religion.

Religion can be theatrical and theatre can be spiritual. Both can be insipid or brilliant, sometimes simultaneously so. Let's be open-minded about the possibilities both provide for the combat of global stupidity.

(All that said, wouldn't it be great if there were theatrical fundamentalists or an organized theatrical left?)