The Advocate (CUNY Graduate Center):
Mike Daisey’s new monologue, How Theater Failed America, which runs at Joe’s Pub through May 11 and then moves to the Barrow Street Theatre for a six-week engagement, focuses not on the collapse of theatre’s physical infrastructure but on that of its ability to attract an audience, and the quality, daring, and relevance of the work produced.
The strongest segments of the piece are centered around the rise of gleaming new theatre buildings around the country and how these structures coincide with the collapse of regional theatre’s ostensible mission and purpose which was, as Daisey puts it
to establish theaters around the country to house repertory companies of artists, giving them job security, an honorable wage, and health insurance. In return, the theaters would receive the continuity of their work year after year — the building blocks of community. The regional theater movement tried to create great work and make a vibrant American theater tradition flourish.
But, Daisey continues, “The dream is dead.”
What has replaced this vision of community-building and community-derived theatre? A series of gleaming new buildings that stand empty most of the time, monuments to their own continued existence rather than to the work they will produce. The cost of the buildings reinforces the already prominent strategy of choosing plays not to build a new generation of theatre-goers but to timidly try to appease the dwindling audience we already have. Actors and directors are flown in for individual shows and then move on to other theatres around the country. Good work results not infrequently but successful shows are a triumph over the system rather than the result of it.