Taking Risks

Life in the Theatre, Plays I've Seen

I’ve seen some great theatre in the past two weeks. While the three shows I’ve seen recently are an eclectic mix, they share one thing in common: risk. Luckily, I’d say that in all three cases, the risk was rewarded.

Two weeks ago I saw At Home At the Zoo at City Lit. In a sense, the script is straightforward: Act One, husband and wife talk in their apartment. Act Two, the husband and a stranger meet and talk on a park bench. What ultimately happens, however, is shocking. And the actors gave honest, raw, wonderfully surprising performances, diving in without reserve. It took guts (both for them and for the director who guided them) to attack the script so actively and emotionally, and it also took skill to succeed so wildly. It was a great night at the theatre.

Last week I saw Aston Rep’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Anyone familiar with Martin McDonagh knows that there is risk inherent in that script. The story is crazy, the characters are insane, and the plot twists are ridiculous. But if done right, it really works. Aston Rep went for it and succeeded. The show was fun, funny, well acted, and exciting.

Yesterday I saw Prologue Theatre Company’s Welcome to America, a one-woman show about Christina Riggs, the Arkansas mother who ended up on death row after killing her two children. This show was risky in a different way: a heart wrenching story, an (on paper) unsympathetic character, an uncomfortable gamut of emotions. It took real bravery for Prologue to take on this show, not only to present it to an audience, but also for the cast and crew to live with the show for such a long time. For artists, there is real personal risk involved in a taking on a play like that, knowing that you will have to carry around that story or that character for months. It paid off, though: the actress who played Riggs turned in a moving and skillful performance.

All of these great risky shows have got me asking myself how gutsy I’m prepared to be. I’ve been reading lots of plays lately and wondering whether I am brave enough to do some of them. To put subversive material onstage, or to tackle a really big and difficult show? I want to be brave in the choices I make, but some of those ideas are a little scary. Then again, I suppose it would have to be scary in order to be brave. And ultimately, is a show worth doing if there isn’t at least a little risk involved?