Directors should take care with works from great artists

Most local theater lovers have reason to feel good about the titles announced for the newly begun season. In a town where we’re lucky to get an occasional Tennessee Williams or David Mamet production, we now have a steady stream of major writers waiting in the wings.

But I’m worried. Some of the plays I’m looking forward to are absurdist works, and local directors tend to get a little loony when they tackle this sort of thing.

These scripts see the universe with a different kind of logic. Characters may speak gibberish, or live in trash cans, or wait for people who don’t exist. But there is logic there, and it’s the director’s job to decide what it is and clarify it. If a director thinks he has free rein — if he thinks absurdism means just being absurd — then it’s likely his production will be vanity nonsense.

John Beane, of the Insurgo Theater Movement, will present several interesting works by writers Vegas seldom gets to experience. But will he make any attempt to honor the material by serving it? The California-transplant has directed two major shows here — “Lysistrata” and “Hamlet” at the Onyx — and in both cases turned the plays into what felt like absurdism but was really nothing more than a directing exercise. Little made sense, and much of it was self-consciously “arty.” There’s a big difference between having a new take on old material and using old material as merely an opportunity for cleverness. Beane shows plenty of talent, but I wonder, for example, if he will really do Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s “The Water Hen” (in November) or if he simply will turn the script into another episode of “The John Beane Show.”

The way great writers are treated should be of major concern to theater lovers, because many locals will be seeing these plays for the first time. Too many local directors pride themselves on making artists like Samuel Beckett and Bertolt Brecht as difficult to follow as possible. Perhaps this is in the belief that the more inaccessible a work is, the deeper it is, the more profound. But the last thing a good-theater-starved town needs is a roomful of audience members leaving a Beckett play thinking, “Beckett is horrible. He makes no sense.”

The greatness in these writers is in the wonderful sense they do make.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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