Is DC Theater Suffering From Sequester?

We went to a terrific production of The Winter’s Tale at the Shakespeare Theater. It’s not one of my favorite plays – the passage of time and the ending is always a bit jarring – but I thought this production was excellent.  The contemporary costumes, in particular, highlighted the irrational jealousy, the rivalry among friends (or frenemies?) and the subsequent anger and stubbornness in a way that was more accessible. Not to be a mouthpiece for the temperance society, but who hasn’t seen someone lose their sh*t after too many cocktails? Only in this case, ego and pride as well as authoritarianism combine to barrel the characters forward on an unstoppable trajectory.

I also enjoyed the orchestra and especially liked having all the actors sit in chairs pushed up against the wall when they weren’t “on stage.” The effect was they were off-stage, away from the scene, but still observing the performance and thus, part of the play.

The only disappointment? The empty seats.

Perhaps it’s because beach season has started and people are starting to head out on weekends. Or maybe because The Winter’s Tale is not a traditional audience-grabber. Whatever the reason, I was surprised to see the smattering of empty seats in an usually packed theater. And sad for theatergoers for missing a good show.

Of course, now that I think about it, there were more empty seats than usual at Wallenstein, and that was truly amazing. A traditional Shakespearean story arc – the Wheel of Fortune has you up at the top and then … not so much. Wonderful acting, with a lead character who dominates the stage and his fate – no shrinking violet, Wallentstein is in full-control and fully aware. I was mesmerized. The story was probably new to most of us in the audience – it was apparently the Schiller debut of this play in the US. So if for no other reason, curiosity should have been a driver of attendance.

And in repertory with Coriolanus, Wallenstein offered so much rich fodder for discussion. Well, if you like wonky Washington-style discussion – ego (with a touch of megalomania?), heroism, patriotism, betrayal, loyalty, ambition … and the big question: just how much do you owe the “state” when it turns its back on you? A question being played out by the Snowden leaks on the front pages where these plays simply set the same theme in a different time.

Is DC turning its back on this type of political theater? Or is it simply choosing to spend time and resources elsewhere? I’m not sure which is the preferable answer.

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