Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fatboy, or The Bludgeon

Last Saturday Katie and I went and saw Fatboy, a play that was at A Red Orchid Theatre. It closed on Sunday, so nobody reading this today will have a chance to see the show. So this isn't a review, per se. I'm just bothered by it and feel the need to bore you with a rant.

I enjoyed the vast majority of the show. It's the story of this awful, awful man and his awful, awful wife who, through the sheer force of greed and profanity and comic violence, rise from inhabitants of their lowly hovel all the way up to king and queen of a horribly ravaged and messed up earth. It was crass and deliberately offensive but very physical and very funny. The production was well done, the performances were good and even. And I got the point; the stuff about greed and it's relation to power, the stuff about political monsters preying upon the widespread indifference of their victims; the stuff about Fatboy and his relationship to our current political situation. The style of the show was so blunt that it was impossible to go through all three acts and not get that. But it was fun and entertaining and illustrated what it wanted to illustrate and by the end of those three acts, the points had all been made and, lo and behold, I actually agreed with some of them.

Then came the epilogue.

And in this epilogue, the actor playing the odious, power-thirsty, money-grubbing Fatboy takes off the fat suit and proceeds to preach the message of the show to the audience. The same message that we've already figured out from sitting through the past hour and a half. Not just preach either, but curse out and mock and damn the audience for letting our own Fatboys take control of everything and ruining the entire world. And I was pissed off.

Why? Why was that necessary? The show already did it's job. They could have just let me leave the theatre with something to think about, but no. They had to tell me what to think about the show. Not only that, but they had to curse me out at the same time.

If there's one thing I hate - hate - it's dropping $25 per ticket to sit in a room and be told what to think. There is no shortage of people who are willing to tell you what to think. I would say nine times out of ten, they'll tell you for free too.

So this is what I hate about the vast majority of political theatre. If the whole point of your show is to shout a message at a bunch of people, why do all of the work of slapping together a story and charging people to sit in a dark room to see it? Why not just get yourself a milk crate, head down to your local town square and just start shouting at people?

This is not to say that there is no great message-oriented theatre. But I don't remember The Crucible needing a long preachy monologue at the end of the show to illuminate the audience. I don't remember someone coming out and shouting "You see, you fucking assholes? This is about McCarthyism! And you're letting the same shit happen like a bunch of fucking sheep!" It was unnecessary to do so. The story spoke for itself. And, even now years after the red scare, people like me can still understand the dynamic and apply it.

I wonder if too many playwrights do not trust that their stories speak for themselves. Or, maybe worse, they do not trust the audience's capacity to understand, as though the notion that 'power-hungry people are bad' is some arcane Augustinian treatise that must be spoonfed in order to truly comprehend.

And so, perhaps because of this lack of trust or because they've fallen in love with their message or fallen in love with the idea of blowing people's minds, they bludgeon their audience over the head. And they do so even though the majority of audience members are most likely aware of the message going in to the show (through promotional materials, through recommendations or reviews, through association with the cast) and also likely already agree to some extent. The playwright is cursing out the choir.

And for that minority that wanders in to the theatre unawares, or that minority who is dragged along by friends of loved ones to the show or that minority that is even willing to consider another point of view, I'll bet you that they blocked it out the moment they smell a sermon. It happened to me, and I agreed with the show.

There's a difference between educating and proselytizing.

And that's what irritates and disappoints me so much about Fatboy. Had the show ended five to ten minutes earlier, the show would have left me with enough pieces to come to a conclusion on my own. But instead of thinking about what I could glean from the story, all I could think about was the fact that I hate being told what to think.

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