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Pretention or just pretend?

March 15, 2017

In the space of one month last year I saw two productions, “No Man’s Land” and “Nice Fish” – plays with star-driven casts and no immediate plot.

“No Man’s Land” warranted a “The Wonder Years” rating on my scale, while “Nice Fish” ended up as “Bug Juice.” Both were about characters, rather than stories, yet one worked as it has for decades, the other had me wondering who the co-author paid to get it into town.

Pinter’s classic “sang.” The wordplay was intelligent, every syllable adding to the depth of our understanding of the person saying it. Each line justifying being spoken because it was a truthful revelation about something intangible. It didn’t have to hold immediate meaning, but it resonated on some deeper level so that long after the curtain fell, the mind went back and made some connection that made the whole event worthwhile and live again in subconscious thoughts.

“Nice Fish,” stank. Supposedly based on “lyrical poetry” – which means long descriptions of a type that would get you a decent grade in “O” Level English in my day, and a fail at University creative writing level in the UK, though probably a Masters (well, a run in a West End theatre) if you happen to be from a country that has lower standards – to say the least.

To add non-sequiturs and lines that go nowhere, fail to add insight beyond the obvious meaning, “I was found out,” – OK, and you are telling me this, why? Did it shape you, does it mean something, are you a convict enjoying the open air or an idiot or what? Annoys the audience, and gives us nothing back for our attention in trying to understand the intention of both actor and author.

The difference is that we have to believe that beneath the surface is something not only solid to hold the play up, but deeply satisfying if we are willing to look there and find it. The actors construct our mineshaft to it as we watch, and the script is conduit through which what they discovers will flow. If they sink a shaft and there is nothing there, and we know pretty soon that they are simply digging a hole as the script fails to fill the gap they are creating, the result is one black evening with nothing to show for it.

If that sounds angry and disappointed, yes, I was. I’ll happily take a piece about thoughts rather than one with a trite tale, but please, make it like Pinter and give me something to think about rather than tell me that you were able to get some messy mental output staged, just because the co-author is more than a bit famous and talented in his own right. Thank you.


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