Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brantley says 'year of trans-Atlantic theatre in NY'

Ben Brantley, chief theatre critic of the 'New York Times', summed up the 2008 theatre season with this opening:

"According to all current maps the theater district known as Broadway is still in Manhattan, while its British counterpart, the West End, is firmly based in London. Yet a majority of the items in the list below might have been culled from either place. This was the year of trans-Atlantic theater in New York, when Anglo-American cooperation (a subject wittily excoriated this season in Caryl Churchill 's Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? at the Public Theater) produced a hearty crop of expertly mounted — and in some cases transcendent — productions. The year’s best new musical (Billy Elliot) originated in the West End, and the most important New York premiere (Blasted) was a production of a show first seen in London more than a decade ago."

He's right and he's wrong. Sure, it was a great year for English language UK imports, but that really doesn't encompass 'trans-Atlantic'. Brantley does follows it up by saying 'Anglo-American cooperation' which is much closer to the truth, so let's not kid ourselves. The Brits have, on average, have had better large scale productions, both dramatic and musical on Broadway for years (I mean, when will f*#king Phantom close?). But saying it's the 'Year of Trans-Atlantic theatre' is like Sarah Palin saying 'Africa is a country'. If London is all Brantley thinks is 'trans-Atlantic', then I encourage him to seek out productions from places like Reykjavik, Oslo, Madrid, Lisbon, Algiers, Casablanca, Dakar or Capetown. All of those are right across the Atlantic too.

Yes, Billy Elliot is another example of how a successful movie has made it to the West End/Broadway. Big deal. Shouldn't Lord of the Rings be coming soon? And Blasted was fantastic, as it was 10 years ago. So why has it taken so long for it to finally get here? New York likes to think it's the center of the universe, but in the 21st century, the center is everywhere. Instead, the city is quickly becoming a museum town like Rome or Paris. It's not the cutting edge anymore, just a theme-park replica of a place where things once happened. Americans can easily mass produce, package and promote a product in order to make money, but the art often gets lost in the shuffle. The Brits play the same game, but they haven't completely lost their sense of quality yet. They will, but not yet.

And it's far from over. 2009 begins with the biggest Anglophile f*#kfest imaginable with The Bridge Project at BAM. The radical concept of having Yanks and Red Coats work together on the same stage at the same time. This isn't a comment on the productions (I actually think they'll probably be pretty good compared to what else is out there). This is a comment on what is supposed to be radical. New York didn't experience a British Invasion as Brantley seems to suggest. The Brits have been here forever and don't seem to have any plans of leaving. We get our revenge in London by making them watch Josh Hartnett in Rain Man.

No comments: