My favorite theatrical experiences leave me with the exhilarating rush of wonder that accompanies a brain wrapping itself around a trailblazing piece of art, a feeling that can actually be summed up in the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s preferred acronym’d nomenclature.
WTF usually serves up this excitement in abundance across their seven productions and two stages every summer. But this year, the institution has been an unreliable source, relegating this three-letter sentiment to apply only to its undefeated pristine pastoral surroundings, with little emanating from what’s actually onstage.
In fact, most of their productions left me asking, well, “what the fuck?” And not in a good way.
Luckily, the idyllic perfection of the Berkshires countryside provides the ideal retreat from the hubbub of the big city, even if what’s onstage alone wouldn’t make the trip worth anyone’s while.
Only one WTF show since June deserves to take that drive down the Taconic State Parkway to New York; the rest are better left forgotten. Since I need that time to collect my thoughts on the former highlight, I’ll keep my assessments of the rest brief.
Power-ranked, but, nonetheless, brief:
The Sound Inside
A metatheatrical — with an emphasis on the adjective that comprises the latter half of that word — phantasmagoria down the endlessly meaningful, and meaningfully endless, rabbit hole of autobiographical storytelling.
A classic dramaturgical bait-and-switch; the first act baits the audience into believing they’re in the presence of yet another discourse drama where the characters are mere mouthpieces to explore the subject at hand — here, the intrinsically contentious relationship between democratic commercialism and personal artistry in a capitalist society — from a variety of angles, then the second act devolves into revealing the comic and tragic absurdity latent in the inevitability of these conversations becoming, like most else in life, meaningless. My lingering qualm: the switch’s payoff debatably justifies the sustained bait.
Incoherently, incohesively overstuffed.
The Member of Our Wedding
Suffocates from the stale stuffiness of its rudimentary period aesthetics, playing the text’s theatrically-exhausted era over the text itself.
One final thought regarding the WTF season that was: it’s the latest instance in an unfortunate trend, where the quality of productions produced by theaters with multiple spaces tends to be in an inverse relationship to the relative sizes of the venues in which the powers-that-be choose to mount them, with the best occupying the smallest stages, and the worst taking top billing (this is particularly true for companies populated by WTF’s prime demographic, i.e. old, rich, and white, such as Roundabout and MTC in New York).