Theatre Uncut is a sort of theatre movement. Playwrights from around the world contribute new, sort plays written in response to current political situations. The plays have been performed by over 200 groups, in 17 countries. It’s great to hear about a group of theatre artists furthering political theatre, and we applaud them.
But how much of a contribution are these playwrights making? The plays chosen in 2012 can be produced free of royalties only during the group’s “week of action”, which was in November of last year. A royalty-free week is not a huge contribution from non-established playwrights (although some are recognized). Many playwrights offer their work royalty-free at any time. These playwrights merely submit their plays to Theatre Uncut folks, who make them easily accessible on their website.
A few weeks ago, six Theatre Uncut plays were presented off-off-Broadway with ultra-minimalist staging. This group will have to come up with better material than this to make an impact on audiences. Most of the plays were dramatically worthless. The playwrights have painfully obvious political messages but little dramatic concern. The two monologues were particularly brutal. A third play was hardly more than an exercise that might have been passable in an improvisation class. A fourth – about a couple purchasing a baby in a supermarket - exhibited a bit of cleverness at least, but was as heavy-handed as the other three. It’s hard to see who’d pay royalties for this work. The actors’ performances in did nothing to relieve the pain.
The other two pieces managed to keep my attention. Neil LaButes’ play, In the Beginning, presented real, if simplistic, characters. A father and daughter discuss the Occupy Movement – with insight on both sides. Of the six pieces, this was the only real play. But the point is made through conversation, not through dramatic action. The most solid performance of the evening is given by Victor Slezak.
The most interesting piece of the evening was David Greig’s Fragile. The one actor on stage gives a respectable performance playing the only character of the evening with depth or subtlety – a psychiatric patient confronting his social worker in her home. No actress plays the social worker. Her lines are projected above the stage, and read by the audience. The technique is undeveloped here, but it’s a promising idea. It suggests a new way of relating to an audience, simultaneously involving them and distancing the character. The final piece of the evening, it was the only one exhibiting real creativity.
For all their faults, we have to applaud Theatre Uncut. After all, how many companies open the floor to discussion after the performance? Let’s hope to see them again – and let’s see what other material they have.