Theater (as) History

Remember talking about how young (or not) we were when Matthew Shepard died? And Jeff’s telling us about watching the first performances of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart in the mid-1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis? I wish we could all jet up to New York City and catch the revival of Kramer’s play (a 2011 Tony award winner for Best Revival).

Revival cast production photo by Joan Marcus.

Such a viewing experience would give us a chance to continue our discussions about how theater makes, shapes, and reflects history just as we did after watching the full staging of Angels. An article in today’s New York Times features interviews with various audience members immediately after they’ve seen Heart. One quote from a spectator lept out at me:

“And you see this play and you’re like, ‘The ’80s seem a long time ago, and yet we’re making the same dumb mistakes.’ ”

I think such an idea is at the heart of arguments about continued relevance for/of political theater. There are ways in which the genre (under which I’d include most documentary performance) can be mistaken for history — so tied to the particular time and place from which it draws its material that it seems staid, archival without activism — but its best examples find ways to keep audiences very aware of their present circumstances while also realizing their present is inextricably linked to the past. Now, what we do with that realization … that’s another story.

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