I just got home a little while ago from seeing a play.
It was an okay play. Very well-acted, very funny, at my favorite theatre in town. We went out to dinner first and I had fantastic salmon ochazuke (Japanese rice and tea soup).
But I didn’t love this play. I had a hard time explaining why to my husband. As a playwright, he tends to be more critical than I. I look for the shiny bits, things that work and could be expanded or expounded on. He thinks how he’d do it differently (or better). But this time ’round, he really dug it. He liked how Brechtian it was, noted that the term gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, it genuinely applied. The action was episodic, frequently interrupted by the narrator/museum docent, and the audience wasn’t meant to get too invested in the characters or their fate. We were periodically reminded that we were just watching a show. We were invited to think about its themes, evolution and environment and biology.
And I think that was the issue for me. What I love best are shows–and books, of course–that are character-driven. Give me a flawed, intriguing character that I can relate to, love or hate. I can appreciate comedic gold or masterful plotting, but if I don’t get drawn in and care about the character, I could take it or leave it. I like looking at universal issues from a different angle, thinking about a concept in a new way. But, primarily, I want to feel invested. Maybe that’s why earnest "issue" plays work for me. Not everyone goes for Laramie Project or The Overwhelming. I do. They might not be character-driven (although I’d argue that Laramie is, actually), but they work for me because they’re an invitation to care, to take social action. Intellectual debate is great, but they’re meant to provoke feeling first.
I want theatre or books that make me feel. I like looking from the inside-out, not the outside-in, magnifying my way to the bigger picture.