Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Contemplative Theatre

September 20, 2010 · 1 Comment

I’ve thought about it, and out of the three plays we’ve seen (or at least the ones we were required to have seen), Habit of the Art, is my favorite. Considering I fell asleep for twenty minutes during the play, I take it to be somewhat of an odd choice. But while the impression I had received afterwards from the other two plays (Merry Wives39 Steps) dissipated within hours of viewing, Habit, oddly enough, stuck with me for much longer. No, Habit does not have the seamless grace of dialogue and movement of the Shakespearian comedy,  nor the zest and technical splendor of the Hitchcock inspiration. What it does have, however, is a surprisingly powerful – if at a times tedious – meditation on the persistence of making art, making it despite the absence of a theatrical director or the lost prospect of an unremitting future.

I’ve seen very few plays in my life so I’m not able to judge the Alan Bennett piece from a holistic and comparative knowledge of the theatre, but I do know that I liked it, and that it offered something that the other two plays didn’t: the opportunity for thought, that is, a chance to immerse myself into the intricacies of the work, long after its performance. *Deep breath* Merry Wives, forgive me, is WEAK Shakespeare. You won’t find a critic who will champion it before Much Ado About Nothing or Twelfth Night. It does its job though, and that is to give us a good laugh. 39 Steps, while somewhat entertaining, is much too vaudeville, too slapstick for me to take seriously (it was more of a treat listening to Mikey and Carol-Ann trade laughs). As a parody on the film of the same name, however, the play does its job in replacing suspense with comedy. But I do not like Habit because it is the seemingly least funniest of the two. (For the record, I think Wood Allen’s prose should have won him a Pulitzer). I like it because the play’s reflections on art and mortality, and ambition and creativity is invariably more interesting than seeing Falstaff duped by faeries (okay, I won’t go that far, but you take the point). Its a play that makes you think about yourself and the act of creation, whether it be some poetry you write on a napkin in a cafe or the 18 inch mural you have to complete by Friday. Someone wrote that the play was too “high-minded.” I fail to see how. What is so pretentious about a group of actors trying to get through a day’s rehearsal?

Habit, did not blow my mind by any measure. I disliked it upon viewing. But as I’ve been explaining, the play lingered with me, and eventually I came around. Much of the humor I did not understand, but that was most likely because of a cultural rift than anything else (as laughter from the native British folk was prevalent during the duration of the play). Yet the innovative, self-reflexive narrative intrigued me, and did much to compensate for the static mise en scene. I see myself watching it again – later, when I’ve the chance to read more Auden.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed the theatre I’ve experienced in London so far. In Korea, theatre culture is largely concentrated in one district of Seoul, a spot that specializes in more contemporary and avant-garde productions. Although you can catch traditional folk plays in the more rustic cities, as far as modern plays go, the options aren’t so many. What compounds the problem of availability is attendance – a relatively low number of people frequent the theatre (Koreans see more movies, and although that may be the case for just about any other country, Korea has the distinction of being one of the few countries that makes more money off of its domestic films than foreign ones, a fact that is even more compelling when you consider that the screen quota is much skewed in favor of imported films). Just the sheer number of programs that are billed here in London is a reminder that there is a population that demands them.   I’ve noticed that many people in the gray and distinguished demographic visit the theatre, at least judging from the three that I’ve gone. Considering that Habit deals with homosexuality so frankly, it is somewhat of a surprise to me that many elderly were in attendance. Maybe the seniors in this country are less conservative, less puritanical than in America? I’ve also seen plenty of children and teenagers at these events as well. Not to mention the vast number of students our age and men and women in their thirties and forties. The diverse population of theatre-goers is a testament to the strong cultural tradition in this city. Perhaps its time for other cities to follow suit.

Categories: 2010 Sean · Theatre

1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 21st 2010 at 10:20

    I’m glad you liked it. I thought it was brilliant.
    As for homophobia: it is much less pronounced here than in the US (I can’t speak for Korea). Granted, some of the older generation will be less accepting, but I have been impressed with the live and let live attitude here. MUCH LESS puritanical than the US

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