La Bête at the Music Box, or my year in miniature

What a bland and listless Broadway season! In fact—weeks of glamorous international travel aside—"bland" and "listless" were the trademarks of my year. Broadway is a symptom, she said. I am the disease. Melancholy, tentative, chaotic, reaching out in ten thousand directions and finding not a toehold. A lot of sighing. Tears. Early closures. Snoring in the aisles. Skipping from the next thing to the next—the answer is just around that corner!—and nothing absorbed. Broadway and I spent most of 2010 trying to crawl back into 2009. Did you sense this or did we fool you? Did you believe the flag we waved that said "All is well!" when really, nothing, at all, was anything close to well? We don't know what to be when we grow up, Broadway and I, which is a problem of epic significance on an ant farm scale. Dark thoughts! But small ones.

The danger is making a religion out of soul searching, of self improving, when really, who gives a shit? Life and theatre go on and on and on. The parts all work, they move us forward, and another year waits to punch us in the face. I'll be reading a lot of Beckett, obviously.

Example #1: Have you seen this video, where this middle-aged white guy walks into a school board meeting in Florida, pulls out a gun and very calmly starts shooting at people? Where the fuck do you go after that? He was crazy and all, but still: How is every single minute of your life not a joke when a thing like this is possible at something as boring as a school board meeting? Jesus Christ!

Example #2: When I got out of bed this morning, I heard a noise coming from the kitchen, so I did what I usually do, which was to open up the cupboard under the sink to make sure there were no rodents cavorting with my cookware. The kitchen was dark and I wasn't fully awake, but the first thing I saw was a mouse crouching in one corner, behind the toilet bowl cleaner, and to my credit I did not scream. Instead I slammed the door shut, pulled on a pair of heavy leather boots over my jammies, and placed a frantic call to Sarah, whose first weary-yet-patient question was, "Are you sure it's a mouse?" What the hell! I know what a mouse looks like! But I turned on the lights anyway and slowly opened the cupboard door, and what I saw crouching behind the toilet bowl cleaner wasn't so much a mouse as an Oxo mini salad spinner made out of clear plastic with a big, black, mouse-like button in the center. So you can see how I was confused.

I sense I have meandered from the plot here.

La Bête: a serious-minded playwright in 17th-century France (David Hyde Pierce) is thrown for an existential loop when his patron, a lovely but appropriately imperious princess played by Joanna Lumley, insists that he add a bumbling street clown to his theatrical troupe. This is Mark Rylance, paired with a set of false teeth and a recreationally medicated style of delivery that foretells a middle-period James Franco, all cheekbones and oblivious, gleeful button pushing.

The story pits the purity of artistic intention (does art exist for art's sake?) against the desire to simply entertain (does art exist to satisfy an audience?) and seems to answer both in the affirmative: yes, morally we are the measure of the choices that we make, and yes, we do enjoy a fart joke, of which there are several. Its very means of presentation throws the balance all to one side, though, as Rylance takes off on a 30-minute near-monologue at the beginning, a tour de force of self-involved boobery that annihilates everything in its wake. This is logorrhea as a heroic dedication to itself, and thus perfectly Twitter-made: a character defined by the vacant babble of every meandering, disconnected, context-free thought that comes into his head. What starts out as whimsy turns almost tragic by the end, as you wonder what sort of hollow is being painted over by so much nonsense.

But that's a question we're meant to ask ourselves, if at all, and it's a bit of a slog after that, advancing by inches without actually developing anything (ho ho ho, like this blog post!) and closing with a didactic, fog-enshrouded thud. But did you enjoy it? Oh yes! I laughed my bargain-priced-ticket tail off, along with most of the audience (save the gray-headed dame ahead of us who nodded off loudly towards the middle) and marked it in the win column for the season. It felt churlish and un-American not to. Topnotch performances, solid direction, high gloss and hearty style, and it left me the minute I left the theater.

It's closing early, by the way. Would that 2010 could do the same.