Fortunately, it was no chore to talk Kayleen into going to see a play by Wallace Shawn, what with his being part of the Princess Bride gang. Also, the MATCH features several wonderfully intimate and accessible spaces to catch a show.
I know that I shouldn't get this excited when someone I consider a friend shares a Facebook post of mine, even if it's a friend I consider a cultural genius. I'm too old and jaded for that kind of fanboy reaction. But Sunday morning I awoke to discover that the award-winning artistic director of Catastrophic had shared my bedtime post from Saturday night.
This is not a review of Evening at the Talk House or Catastrophic's staging thereof. Even if it were a review, it would not contain any details about what actually happens during the play's 90 minutes. Any review that included such details would do the play and its author, the estimable Wallace Shawn, a great disservice.
What is important about this play is the statement that it makes—sometimes subtly, sometimes not—about the Western World of the 21st century. It asks what share of the responsibility regular folks (and artists in particular) bear for the millions of premature, violent deaths of people who stand, wittingly or not, in the way of the Global Capitalist Empire. It also dares to imagine a world in which television has rendered live theatre sooooo not worth the effort.
- Apart from the magnificently advanced-estate-sale aesthetic of the Talk House set, the floorboards of the stage squeaked just loud enough to be characters in the play. One wonders whether that was an intentional decision.
- That checked jacket worn by Seán Patrick Judge, with the maroon elbow patches and matching maroon turtleneck will haunt my dreams, assuming I remember it correctly: Who found that combination, and where?
Although I have long observed Catastrophic's slinking path from alienated youth to alienated middle age, I had to see a Catastrophic show after missing an entire season to feel the full impact of that maturation. After the cast took its bows Saturday night, my mind was reeling as much from the company's long-term metamorphosis as from the implications of the play.
Punk Theatre Evolves
Think about those rock bands from your youth that you thought were so revolutionary, musically or lyrically, and how they eventually lost their edge. It's inevitable. Time and success do that. It typically manifests at around the eighth studio album, when touring revenues become steadier and all those early-career advances have been paid off.
When bands get too comfortable, they follow one (or more) of several established patterns, including:
- recognizing that lost edge and break up, hoping to catch a magical spark with new bands or as solo acts or just quitting altogether;
- writing and recording new material in the same style while getting less interesting by the year; and
- evolving/mutating that style into something more mature and finding new plateaux of excellence.
The original wave of punk was designed to be disposable. Did anybody in the 1970s London or New York scene foresee that within punk lay the seeds of post-punk, ready (or even anxious) to germinate?
Oddly enough, one of my favorite bands from that era, XTC, managed to pull off all three, in reverse order. Siouxsie and the Banshees is a great example of #3 simultaneous with #1 (The Creatures), expanding the band's musical color box Siouxsie and Budgie could actually retire.
Infernal Bridegroom Productions was, in the most complimentary sense of the word, punk theatre. The IBP crew performed in unconventional venues, kept ticket prices affordable for their starving-artist friends, and flipped a defiant double bird at the dominant paradigm. They reveled in not merely exceeding but exploding your expectations of the theatrical experience. Cherry on the sundae: They did it all so brilliantly.
In the full flower of its punkitude, IBP collapsed due to financial mismanagement, only to re-emerge after some downtime as Catastrophic Theatre. Houston's arts & theatre scene without Catastrophic, or something like it, would not be worth the trouble. There are now several "something like it" companies in town, all of them owing it some allegiance for having paved the way. It's similar to how Saint Arnold, which started at about the same time, has spawned dozens of microbreweries locally, mostly started by former Saint Arnold employees.
Why Aren't These People Famous?
Something else I got to thinking about is this: Jim Parsons is in the Big Leagues, nine years into his run as Sheldon Cooper with the Big Bang gang. Why didn't Charlie Scott, Kyle Sturdivant, Tamarie Cooper, or Troy Schulze ever reach that level? They're just as talented and versatile, IMHO. Scott in particular, like his character's self-image in Talk House, finds hooks in the script that even the playwright might have missed. He makes understated moments, phrases, and gestures that much more compelling, like dark matter making sure that the stars maintain their proper distance.
In answer to my own question, I'll offer a hypothesis and see if anyone shoots it down. There's a reason, maybe several, that this bunch plugs away at community theatre rather than hiring a bigshot agent and knocking on doors in Hollywood or New York. Mostly it comes down to limited tolerance for bullshit and knowing how a bigtime acting career can steal your life. If it's true, I can identify: For the same reason, I haven't gone out of my way to promote my own writing beyond this website. (That, plus being an introvert and having a day job that I actually like.)
Parsons, from what I've read, navigates Hollywood bullshit comfortably, without letting it alter his essential personality. He clearly has not forgotten his roots, seeing as he's a major donor for Catastrophic and serves on its Advisory Board. He's still that guy from UH Drama with mad comic chops, but with more money. Let's hope that he can find a comfortable landing when Big Bang Theory jumps its last shark.