Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Venice Saved

Venice Saved, the latest work from David Levine, isn't audience interactive, it's audience dependent. One might think that this is a requirement of theater, but Levine's an outside-the-black-box thinker, and his previous "performances" have been somewhat solipsistic: a man farming potatoes in Germany for ten hours a day (Bauerntheater), or actors being paid to continue their part-time jobs (Actors at Work). To him, life is theater, theater is life, and it goes on regardless. That said, depending on the audience, Venice Saved could be just over an hour, or it might stretch close to four. Depending on the audience, Venice Saved may either be a lecture (with live "exhibitions" of point-enhancing theater), a seminar (with questions answered from the audience), or, as befits a show tackling the question of "political theater," a debate. What it is absolutely not, on all accounts, is boring. Regardless of your familiarity with, say, Black Watch or Simone Weil (or, for that matter, Bertolt Brecht, Caryl Churchill, and Lynn Nottage), the evening is an intimate and honest account of everyman's struggle for definition and--far more importantly--meaning.

Levine's no wizard behind a curtain--in fact, there's no set, just a table--and he's aided and abetted by an intriguing combination of actors (Jeff Biehl, Jon Krupp, Christianna Nelson, and Colleen Werthmann), a dramaturg (James Hannaham), and a writer (Gideon Lewis-Kraus). This mix adds a lot of different perspectives to the pot, and even though some bits are scripted (or at least well-researched and rehearsed), their honestly ambiguous contributions (there are no straight answers, which--as our audience concluded--is somewhat the point) are what help to fuel the discussion.

In the interests of sparking your interest, here's a sneak peek at the "spine" of the seminar: content makes a show political; audiences are manipulated by means of affirmation, sympathy, or graphic depiction; and impact can be delivered either through the implicit or explicit, acted or "real." Of course, that's just more words: what sells the show are the participants, actors and audience alike. During intermission, everyone is eager to continue the discussion . . . as they are after the show, too, with some free beer for added incentive. Whether it's about political theater or not, there's no way you leave the theater without learning something of value.

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