Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chesapeake by Lee Blessing with Charles Stites, Paladin Theatre, April 7 - 23

Chesapeake by Lee Blessing, Paladin Theatre, Austin

Sometimes the miracle happens.

Theatre is a collusion between actors and the audiences: You pretend to be somebody and I'll pretend to believe you. In the subtitle to his 2010 book-length essay The Necessity of Theatre, UT philosophy professor Paul Woodroof calls it "the art of watching and being watching." Writing for a rationalist public in 1817 Coleridge defended the use of the fantastical in poetry by invoking "that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

I love the collusion. My suspension is just about as elastic as they come, and I'll watch just about any offering of narrative theatre.

In his few short sentences on the back of the program card for
Chespeake Charles P. Stites, solo player in this piece and director of himself, precisely captures that feeling: "My will to suspend my disbelief is on a hair trigger. As soon as the lights go down in a theatre, I will immediately go anywhere the actors and playwright want to take me."

And sometimes, so very rarely, a text and a performance so transcend that common transaction that you find yourself living from word to word, from gesture to gesture, in a trance of belief that's almost an out-of-body experience. You see through the actor into a succession of images, shaped by language and unexpected turns of plot and character, to a point that when the experience ends, when the lights fade out and you've finished with your convulsion of applause for this suddenly unfamiliar individual in front of you, you linger in that world of imagination for long minutes. As you make your way out of the theatre, navigate downtown streets, locate your car and drive home, you're still out there, somewhere.

Stites' delivery of Lee Blessing's
Chesapeake was the most gripping act of theatre imagination I've ever seen in Austin. Take that with as many grains of salt as you like. I've been assiduously attending narrative theatre events here since mid-2008 when I instituted Austin Live Theatre as a blog, and I've written more than 400 reviews in that time.

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