The double bill of early plays by Eugene O’Neill, brilliantly directed by Alex Roe, which recently closed at the Metropolitan Playhouse, appears as the answer to a question posed by another double bill (of sorts, one would have to say, since they are paired in repertory but not in a single performance) presented by the Theater for a New Audience of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879) and Strindberg’s The Father (1887), and it makes sense to discuss them all together. The question is, “What next?”
John Douglas Thompson
can think of one, perhaps two or three people, who might possibly know all the theaters in New York City. I certainly don't, although I make it my business to know as many as I can. It really is quite an active scene, with more new plays than one can keep track of, much less attend...even works improvised in front of our eyes, but this all rests on a bedrock of revivals, which may be in the minority, although they seem to flourish everywhere. There is always the question of how good the new shows actually are and whether the the revivals are filling a yawning gap. If you talk to actors and directors, you’ll consider the issue seriously. You'll find the entire mixture in New York Arts—good, bad, and indifferent—with a healthy component of revivals, ranging from high-profile visiting companies, for example Sophocles' Antigone with an internationally-celebrated star to the Barnard Columbia Ancient Drama Group's unforgettable production of a lesser-known play by Euripides in ancient Greek. In this retrospective article, I'd like to discuss a few productions and a few companies which have brought me particular pleasure over the past year. Their productions were important enough, in their different ways, and excellent enough, to make a difference in how I view our theatrical landscape. What they all share is a deep devotion to serving the text and historical character of the works they produce, whether they are classics or long-forgotten obscurities.
John Douglas Thompson's brilliant performance as Louis Armstrong in Terry Teachout's Satchmo at the Waldorf was one of the great moments of Shakespeare and Company's 2012 season. As we rose from our seats after the performance, my companions and I were emotionally drained, that is, deeply moved, and we agreed that the play and its message were important. With John Douglas Thompson on stage the whole experience seemed overwhelming and beyond criticism. Yet shortly after the performance, an encounter with some of those responsible brought me down to earth and forced me to enunciate the flaws I'd noticed in as succinct and helpful a way as possible. The lighting needed polishing, mostly simplification, as did the play itself. Satchmo just got a little too busy with his tape recorders at points, symptomatic of a deeper problem in the narrative process of this extended monologue and the protagonist's relation to the audience. There were and are other problems, which I'll discuss later. Thompson's acting was so powerful that one had to dig beyond it to get at these. There were only a few moments when it was tangible on stage.