By Jim O'Quinn
Dateline: DETROIT. That's the first impression you get from this month's cover, with its comically impassioned scene from Lisa D'Amour's hot new play, named for the Motor City. And if D'Amour's wild-and-woolly script doesn't tell you everything you need to know about what life's like in the environs of that emblematic American locale, thumb over to Davi Napoleon's article "The Lake Effect" for a richly detailed tour of the recession-defying arts scene in Southeast and Central Michigan, where a dozen new theatre companies have blossomed in just the past five years. Where else but in these pages is the roiling Detroit of a playwright's imagination likely to sidle up to the gritty-but-optimistic Detroit of a journalist's on-the-scene reportage?
Don't be fooled, though—this is an issue with legs. Once you've attended to the down-to-earth enthusiasms of that loose-knit gang of young artists revitalizing Detroit, head south in the company of actor Bryce Pinkham to the quiet streets and homey front porches of Wharton, Tex. That's the town, of course, that served as the late Horton Foote's template for his epic Orphans' Home Cycle and other plays, many of which will be remounted at an upcoming two-month-long festival in nearby Dallas/Fort Worth. Pinkham and his castmates from the Foote plays find themselves captivated and enriched by their experience of Wharton and its people.
The same preoccupation with the power of place holds true for a quartet of playwrights devoting their attention to history plays, Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder discovers as she shares her painstaking research on a Montgomery, Ala.–based Civil War drama with fellow scribes Doug Wright, Dan O'Brien and Anna Zeigler. "It's hugely important to me to get out of books and into the historical world I'm writing about," declares O'Brien, who ended up in the Canadian Arctic, of all places, on the trail of his protagonist in The Body of an American.
Places—especially those theatrical epicenters Chicago, Los Angeles and New York—also play no small role in the multi-phase career of Laura Eason, the subject of Rob Weinert-Kendt's lead feature. And this issue programs briefer stops in global trouble spots and even points in cyberspace (which can be mobilized to fight artistic repression wherever it surfaces, advises Teresa Eyring in her monthly column).
So datelines matter—they're a sign that theatre and the artists who make it understand the power of geographic and cultural specifics. Theatre wouldn't be theatre if it didn't aspire to transformation and transcendence, but when you get down to the basics—actors and audience in a room, sharing a story—there's no art form more intimately tied to place.
— Jim O'Quinnblog comments powered by Disqus
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