As some of you may know, the Bon Vivant theater is home to two theatre companies, THEATREWORKS, of course, and the gang downstairs called Theatre 'd art.
They play in the Osborne Studio, a classroom by day and a 50 seat theatre by night. Theatre 'd art was founded by some UCCS theatre alumni who have been together nearly five years now, creating innovative and adventurous productions to the great delight of their audiences. Theatre 'd art is a truly fearless bunch, full of goofy shock and awe. Their graphics and images are the best of any arts organization in the city.
Our students often play and work in their productions and the company has become yet another terrific resource for our academic progam. So we have been happy to give them a home downstairs. We like them all very much, and we like their inventive work, all the more so for taking one chance after another. Of course having two theatre companies going full steam ahead in the same place means that there's at least a chance that worlds will collide. And so they did last night.
I was at home watching the excellent Dodgers/Phillies game when I got a call from our executive director that there had been a disturbance downstairs. It turns out Theatre 'd art was having a final dress for its next production, a series of short pulpy plays called Grand Guignol, originally created for a "theater of horror" in France 100 years ago.
I had gone to the rehearsal the night before and put my stamp of approval on the acid in the face play, the amputation play, the guillotine play and the psychopathic nun play, as well as a bawdy vaudeville interlude. Very promising stuff, I thought, funny/scary and all coming together. But I learned last night there was an element missing from the rehearsal I saw. Just a little burlesque show, that's all, which was first introduced last night as a pre-show warm-up.
I have nothing at all against burlesque shows, which have their own niche in the story of American theatre. And this show was performed by a troupe of professionals, one of whom was our former THEATREWORKS box office manager. But it turns out the show succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Eight different girls took turns artfully disrobing, and with each discarded item of clothing, the audience cheers grew louder and more raucous. The result was 20 minutes of sustained vocal enthusiasm the likes of which have never been heard in the Osborne studio. That would be just fine too, except that this noise travelled upstairs, breaking through the concrete floor and erupting on stage and into the audience of Grapes of Wrath in the very quiet opening scenes when Tom Joad comes home to find that his family have lost their home in the Oklahoma dust bowl. Not exactly the perfect place to for a burlesque show soundtrack. Tom, we lost the farm. Yeah, baby!!!
We had a meeting with Theatre 'd art late last night, and explained our problem. To their great credit, they understood immediately,and a solution was found. On the two nights when the burlesque show competes with Steinbeck, it will follow rather than precede the Grand Guignal performances, so the excitment will begin after the Grapes of Wrath Is over. THEATREWORKS, in turn, will provide theatre 'd art audiences with wine ("Goats de Roam"-rough stuff) as compensation for arrivng early. We will both play on.
Together last night, in the THEATREWORKS kitchen, we remarked on the grotesque (and grotesquely funny) overlapping of the burlesque show and the Steinbeck novel. There's one place in The Grapes of Wrath where you can almost imagine the two together---when Uncle John goes off the get drunk and escape his chronic guilt for a personal tragedy. He might have wandered off to a burly tent show, a little bump and grind for the common man.
But the obvious conjunction is truly startling. Tonight and next friday, audiences will have the chance to experience a unique juxtaposition, one I would strongly advise them not taking. They can see the moving and emotionally shocking final scene of The Grapes of Wrath, in which Rose of Sharon,who has just given birth to a still born baby, offers her milk rich breast to a starving man. Then they can trundle downstairs to the Osbone where they can see many more young breasts exposed and offered for completely different purposes. Now there's a channel switch for you, one that our culture-- which increasingly reads like a David Foster Wallace novel-- seems to offer with jarring and numbing regularity.