Is theater dead? Stolen Chair's latest production, Theatre is Dead and So Are You thinks so. And if it is not, then the show does its best to give the knife one final twist. Designed to be an “irreverent funeral for the stage,” the play is a eulogy for the deceased emcee, Leonard J. Sharpe, of a vaudeville troupe. The troupe performs monologues, sketches, and songs, all focused on death. The point of the show seems to be clear—it's about death—but what never becomes clear is why the performance feels the need to exist in the first place. The introduction to Theatre is Dead is long and slow. The stage is littered with theatrical debris—a drill, a curtain, a sawhorse. One performer enters and slowly removes the articles from the stage, one by one, while the audience watches, some laughing nervously, some impatiently awaiting the start of some action. Then a coffin is wheeled onstage and a woman, Hazel, enters, and opening the lid, wails. She closes the lid. Then opens it again and once again, wails. And then repeats the actions, until she finally takes flowers out from her skirt and begins littering the stage and coffin with them. Finally, other performers begin climbing out of the coffin, which is a neat trick, and it looks like the actual show is ready to begin.
Except that it doesn't. What instead occurs is more introduction—who the performers are, who is in the coffin, and the all important question: how did theater die? Instead of answering the question, the performer decides to question why the audience is at the show. After all, don't we have something better and cheaper to be doing? At this point, the audience most likely is wondering why they sacrificed their evening to see the show, but since not much had happened yet, it is still eager to see some action.
The preliminaries take so long that once the actual acts start, it is hard to get into them. And like the intro, the acts have a lot of air in them and could move much more quickly. Certain choices made the show physically difficult and painful to watch. A number of acts took place on the catwalks behind the balcony, so that the audience had to turn and crane their necks to see them. Making full use of the space is an interesting choice, but it is wise to reconsider such choices when it makes the show a pain to watch. Also, a source 4 positioned upstage center was swiveled around on occasion and shone directly into the audience's eyes.
The strongest skit in the show, a re-enactment of Romeo and Juliet's death scene, using the corpse of the emcee as Romeo, was truly funny and made good use of physical comedy and gesture. But it came too late in the performance to save the production from its own death.
Despite the large number of recent show closings and this shaky economic time, theater is not dead. We should be celebrating the fact that people are still drawn to theater, not attempting to “suck the pleasure” out of the remaining days of life as Theatre is Dead intends to do (according to the director's note). Anyone with any vested interest in the form is advised to stay away from Theatre is Dead and So Are You.