Baboon Pirates

Scribbles and Scrawls from an unrepentant swashbuckling primate.

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Location: Texas, United States

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Balcony

When Culture Gets That Tangy Taste

Sheila posted a good review of the Jean Genet play 'The Balcony' on her blog the other day. It brought back a rush of memories for me, since I hadn't really thought about that play in well over a decade.

For a suburban boy growing up in Houston, Texas, stageplays are not what you'd consider a standard form of entertainment. I was more likely to be found headbanging to Def Leppard and Van Halen, smoking doobies out behind the tennis court bleachers, or sneaking into R-rated movies.

Sure, my folks would drag me down to Miller Outdoor Theater to watch 'The Music Man', or 'Annie Get Your Gun' in an effort to inject some culture in my veins, and I'd have a pretty good time there, though I'd NEVER admit it to my parents. Later, I'd get a good dose of Shakespeare in high school, and had friends either acting in the yearly school musicals or playing in the orchestra, so I got a smattering of Gilbert & Sullivan and Rogers & Hammerstein. My girlfriend, who was a lot hipper to culture than I was, even bought us tickets to a couple of plays, 'Death Of A Salesman', and 'The Odd Couple' (where I sorely missed Jack Klugman's version of Oscar Madison).

Still, plays were never the Next Big Thing for me. The roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd never really inspired me, in spite of the smattering of acting I did as an offshoot of the Speech & Debate squad activities.

Aside from repeated viewings of Greater Tuna (which might be the hands-down funniest Texas export since H. Ross Perot) the only theaters I frequented for years were movie theaters.

In '88 or '89, I had a friend named Denise who was a costume designer at Rice U., and we'd been present as she worked up costume after costume for this play they were putting on. I'd never heard of it, nor the author, and honestly had no desire to drag myself away from the bong to go see it. Nevertheless, on opening night, armed with a couple of "to go" joints, my buddy "RedWood" and I moseyed over to the theater to see what our friend Denise had done.

We sit down, the lights darken, and the music begins. They've selected something freaky by Laurie Anderson for the lead-in and lead-out to each scene. It's eerie.

Then, of course, you have the 'The Balcony' itself, which is not easy to describe. In fact, I'll let Sheila do it for me.

Go read her post. I'll wait.

Good, huh? (Her review, I mean! The play might not be your cup of java...)

Now, considering my relative lack of theater savvy, and general cultural deficiencies, this play blew me away. For the first time, I really recognized the power the theater could have to carry ideas, change perceptions, and generally mindfuck people. It was more personal than a movie, it went far beyond what TV could do. The audience's reactions are going to subtly manipulate the actor's performances, making each show different.

It was eye-opening. I'm not sure 'The Balcony' is even near the top of my list of favorites. It's just a bit too bizarre for me to be fully comfortable with, but it has a special place in my memories. I still don't see as many plays as I should, but now I at least make the effort to be aware of what's playing around town.