Monday, April 20, 2009

All is "Well" at Barksdale

Posted by Bruce Miller
One of the strongest influences on my notion of what distinguishes a great theatre from the rest of the crowd comes from the 20 or so years I subscribed to Arena Stage, the granddaddy of all major professional theatres, still going strong in Washington D. C. I began my Arena journey in my junior year of college, 1970 – 71. Two of my professors and mentors were subscribers—Jack Welsh and Ruth Salisbury. They were looking for someone to round out the car pool. If memory serves, Jack fronted me the money and I paid him back bit by bit over the school year.

I renewed my subscription annually after that, working my way over two decades into the best seats in the house. For many years I continued to subscribe with Jack and Ruth (Phil Whiteway joined our intrepid group sometime in the early 70s). Later Phil and I struck out on my own, eventually recruiting our girlfriends / wives, Donna and Terrie. Dianne Graham was with us for several years. Then Phil and Donna dropped out around the time that PJ was born in the early 80s, and Terrie and I called it quits when she became pregnant with Hannah during the 1989 – 90 Season. After the kids, who had the time or money?

Anyway, one of the things I learned during this double decade experience was that some of the shows I enjoyed the most were the ones I knew the least about. They may or may not have been “great” plays—time is the only judge of that. They were “of the moment,” almost ephemeral, often loosely crafted works of whimsy and/or drama, not necessarily meant to stand the test of time. They were part of the zeitgeist. They gave us lots to talk about on the ride home.

I particularly recall History of American Film and The Marriage of Bette and Boo, both by Christopher Durang, Pueblo, Isn’t It Romantic? by Wendy Wasserstein, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window by Lorraine Hansberry, Moonchildren by Michael Weller, Status Quo Vadis by Donald Driver, Streamers by David Rabe, and Nightclub Cantata by Elizabeth Swados, among many, many others.

I LOVED the fact that Arena, under the brilliant artistic direction of Zelda Fichandler, had the daring to mix it up. Interspersed with the Arthur Millers and Thornton Wilders, with the Ibsens and Chekhovs and Brechts, would be young and current writers who were testing the boundaries and breaking the molds.

At Barksdale Theatre, my artistic decisions are influenced absolutely by Zelda’s aesthetic. I wish we had the resources to do more Millers, Wilders, Ibsens, Chekhovs and Brechts. I’m proud that we have the daring to include in each season new, lesser known (at least in Richmond) works such as our current production of Well by Lisa Kron, and our recent productions of The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, The Little Dog Laughed by Douglas Carter Beane, Brooklyn Boy by Donald Margulies, Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey, and Melissa Arctic by Craig Wright.

Only by exploring new work do we grow as artists and audiences.

If you’d like to join us on the journey, we invite you to round out the car pool.

See you at the theatre.

--Bruce Miller

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