High and Low

A window into how my brain works:

As I walked into American Buffalo, it occurred to me that Circle in the Square is the only theater on Broadway where the stage is located on the floor, and all seats rise above the playing space. Obviously mezzanines and balconies look down on the action in other houses, but these heaven-bound theatergoers remain aware that the stage exists in a middle ground between the orchestra and their vantage point.

As I contemplated how Circle in the Square’s distinct physical arrangement might change the ways that the audience engages with the specifics of American Buffalo, my brainstorming flashed me back to a show I saw weeks prior, in London:

Stalls-goers of Mike Bartlett’s The 47th will notice just how high the exceeding height of the Old Vic’s stage positions the Trumps. Even though dress circlers and grand circlers are technically looking down upon the First Family of Filth, they’re still a lot closer than normal.

There’s some dramaturgical resonance going on here. Much like Bartlett’s King Charles III — most of the original production’s creative team reunited for this project —the play’s conceit merges the Trumps with the contours of Shakespearan drama. Whereas the former’s royalty feels right at home in the land of the Bard (groundlings stood below the royal characters, while more esteemed attendees were on their level), bestowing such prestigious clout upon the Trumps can’t help but elevate how we perceive them.

Elevate! You know, like the stage’s height! This architecture is a spatial embodiment of the play’s premise, a visual reminder of its artifice’s capacity to transcend the Trumps’ surface lowliness. The production forces us to peer up at our supposed peers (elected officials represent us voters); Donnie and Co. would have it no other way. We can’t forget the lofty heights they scaled and reached — this irrefutable fact is staring us smack in the face — and the play asks: what did they do with their raised platform?

Also, the set’s back wall extends miles away from us observers, perhaps pointing to the backroom deals that secured Trump the crown, shady rendezvous always kept at a removed distance from us viewers.

The 47th literalizes the figurative.

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