Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bad Theater and Bad Liturgy

So I'm in Phoenix this week and I was forced to go to a luncheon performance of a play that I had no interest in seeing.  It was a One-Act for Black History Month.

That's right, a luncheon one-act for Black History Month.  

Yes, it was as awful as it sounds.

And it's downtown.  And the theater is surrounded by hideously ugly statues of naked people frolicking - totally naked men and women, doing a kind of queer "liturgical dance" with their breasts and butts and genitals flying in every direction and captured forever in stop action by the sculptor.

And the audience is a bunch of old folks.  And they all get box lunches.  And they sit around you and eat their sandwiches and chew their food, packed into a tiny studio theater, and you want to scream.

And some old gal comes out and warms up the audience.  And finishes with a stupid tap dance.  And it's embarrassing.  And the old folks, with their moldy tuna fish, sit there laughing.  We're packed in.

The show begins.  It is insipid, juvenile, but well-intentioned.  The entire plot revolves around an extremely superficial and shallow conflict between two characters that has nothing to do with anything of any importance.  It is poorly acted.  But the acting surpasses the dialogue, such as it is.  It's mostly not dialogue; it's mostly the characters addressing the audience directly and giving exposition.  When it is dialogue, you miss the stilted and awkward moments of exposition.  One of the gals is talented and should be in something better than this.

Because the play is stagey and shallow, it runs short.  An encore is presented that consists of the lead actor singing songs from the era in which the story took place.  He sings three standards to a karaoke track.  He hits all the notes but he has no talent.  Even the old ladies with the moldy tuna fish are getting bored - and it's songs from their day.

It finally ends, but before you can escape, there's a sit around and an "ask questions of the cast and playwright" session.  No one asks the only question I was thinking of, which is "How can you charge money for something like this?"

We are finally released.  As we pass out into the bright hot desert sun, the cast and playwright stand in a receiving line by the door, waiting for us to shake their hands and tell them how good they were - which all the old people, their breath stinking of moldy tuna fish, quite enthusiastically do.  I avoid any eye contact and exit.

Will anyone ever tell them that they're bad? In their whole careers, will anyone ever tell them the truth - that they're bad? I wonder, as I make my way past the ugly stone naked people in front of the Theater Arts Center, dancing and celebrating "art" - which right at this moment is the last thing I want to "celebrate".


Damn it, this is serious.

Theater is a venue for the depth of the human heart, a crucible for the human spirit, a portal to the divine.  It is not, therefore, that different from church.

And I usually feel as cheated at a suburban Mass as I did at this play.  The great and serious and vital thing is missing.  Christ may be on the altar, but no one knows who He is.  The gods may be behind the curtain, but we pay money to bad actors and playwrights and singers to keep them veiled.  We think soap operas are high art; we think stilted dialogue and superficial themes and one-dimensional characters are laudable.  We think liturgical dance and statues of ugly naked people celebrating their own mindless vanity are worthy of public approval.

We take God on our tongues and go about our business.  We walk into a darkened theater and come out into the sun more covered in gloom than before.  We do what we can to flee from the light.  For the light has come into the world and men prefer darkness to light, for our deeds are evil.  And our art obscures; it no longer enlightens.

St. Paul once said of Jesus Christ,
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. - Col. 1:28
But we no longer proclaim, we never admonish (to admonish is politically incorrect, you know), and we never teach anyone with "wisdom" - which is a deep and scary thing.  And to be "fully mature in Christ"?  Come on.  I mean, come on.  How many priests or bishops or Protestant pastors would ever begin to take such a statement seriously?

For it's all puerile - it's all as far from maturity as you can get - the "worship", the ugly art, the hideous statues, the bad luncheon theater, the karaoke singing, the nonsense.

It's all puerile.

"Full maturity in Christ" is a long measure off from this.


Christ had forty days in the desert.  I have had about 40 hours.  But one was spent realizing that I'm far more serious about dramatic art and the Church than I care to admit.  It was a light and forgettable afternoon, but it was really no laughing matter.

Here are some photos I took on my hike up the mountain, with Phoenix in the distance.

The mountain from my dad's back yard.

Hiking up the mountain.

The suburbs below.