Ye Gods!

What is satire? According to Wikipedia, it's a style of writing that "exposes the follies of its subject to ridicule...using irony and deadpan humor liberally." M. Stefan Strozier has written The Whales with the intention of turning a mirror onto New York theater and taking it to task for its indulgences, lazy productions, and liberal ideas. But though his views may be fashioned into an often thoughtful, Aristophanes-like satire, its presentation and performance is hampered by indulgent scenes, a lazy production, and half-formed ideas, which destroy the subtle irony and deadpan humor. In the play, the hermaphrodite god Dionysus is displeased with the current state of drama, particularly in the Big Apple. After some brainstorming with her Maenads, Dionysus sends them to find a crazy playwright to write a new show for a dramatic competition. If it is deemed good, the playwright will enjoy great rewards (including an Apple Mac laptop). They find their champion in Harry Alton, a former playwright and currently a homeless schizophrenic who lost his livelihood by writing a play called Hang All the Hippies at High Noon.

After the Maenads visit Harry and his fellow homeless lunatics in dreams, Harry goes about working on a new play for the competition. He meets a starry-eyed NYU drama student named Melissa, who suggests that they get someone to produce a reading of the work. Their plans are thwarted by Joanna Higginbotham, a member of the theatrical establishment whose ideals are the antithesis of Harry's.

Soon they are in the presence of the Whales, who are sent by Dionysus to judge the competition. But instead of a duel between the plays, the Whales call for Joanna and Harry to debate their viewpoints, with each trying to make a case for his or her goals and rules for today's theater.

Sadly, Strozier felt the need to jazz up his honest critique with unnecessary rap duels and dance breaks, and to people his script with tired stereotypes. If a character is presented as schizophrenic, he doesn't need to say things like "I am not crazy, everyone else is crazy" to get the point across. This is especially true in a protagonist; how can the audience believe in a hero who says such unbelievable things?

Instead of playing out the satire in a deadpan fashion, the actors chew up the black-box theater, and too many pregnant pauses kill the show's pacing. Perhaps Strozier would've been better off getting an outside director to exert some discipline over the staging instead of directing it himself. The promotional materials for The Whales boast of its large cast. But when one person is onstage speaking and a dozen other people are also there, carrying out their own objectives, fidgeting, and so on, the words are lost and the number of people is a detriment, not an asset.

It seems the big point that Strozier is making is that there should be better theater, that people shouldn't spend lots of money for lackluster Broadway shows, and that the liberal artistic elite is mostly to blame for the sorry state of the arts. But other than vague suggestions about critics and publishers loosening their stranglehold over their industries and being open to new things, no other ideas (certainly no original ones) are put forward to fix what the playwright says is so broken.

The ability to question institutions and to incite change is an important right to have and to exercise. However, there must be responsibility in carrying it out. The message itself is not only significant; so is the way that it's delivered. This is especially true when engaging in intellectual battles, such as a call for better New York theater. If one cannot bring a superior, or at least equal, product to the table, then it is no longer necessary or relevant. Rather, it is only so much more detritus in an already litter-strewn arts scene.

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