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Pure Theatrical Escapism

December 10, 2009

brief.jpeg39.jpegPerhaps it's the war-mongering, economically-difficult times we currently live in, but theatre companies seem to be achieving great commercial success in San Francisco these days with shows that draw inspiration from the black and white movie thrillers and romances of yore to create a new breed of theatrical escapism.

As I sat in the Curran Theatre last night watching the touring Broadway production of a show based on Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, Kneehigh Theatre's recent tour of a show based on Noel Coward's Brief Encounter kept popping into my mind. I guess my reaction isn't that surprising considering the fact that the Kneehigh show played right next door to The 39 Steps, at the Geary Stage, just a couple of months ago.

These two theatrical homages to the silver screen have a lot in common. Both employ extreme physicality as a way to make fun of - with great affection - hammy early movie and vaudeville acting styles. Both rely on a barebones approach to staging, with the storytelling emanating more out of the actors' physical ingenuity and agility and snappily-written scripts than through snazzy lighting, costume and set effects. And both take a highly romanticized view of the good old days and feed on a collective desire to retreat from reality with a ripping good yarn.

Neither production thrilled me, to be honest. The schtick gets a bit predictable and tiring after a while. And there's only so many wildly imaginative gimmicks and bits of theatrical schtick that an audience member can take in an evening.

But it's interesting to see how positively audiences are responding to these kinds of shows. They offer pure escapism and they're quite a bit of fun. I guess that's what people need right now.

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