Sunday, November 28, 2021

On Execution

There's all the work that needs to be done It's late, for revision
There's all the time and all the planning
And songs, to be finished

- LCD Soundsystem, “Someone Great”
Stephen Sondheim
(1930 - 2021)
Losing a great person of art provides a moment of reflection. You hold for five, and look around and appraise not only what they have done, but also the impression they have made, what else may be absent had they never begun. Perhaps even more significant, when you are made aware of what currently is.

Because, oh! There is a revival of a musical by Stephen Sondheim on Broadway right now, and not just any revival, but one for which he actively participated, recentering the central protagonist to be a woman; Company.

A few openly gay playwrights have bristled as their works were psychoanalyzed for queer themes. If George and Martha were meant to be a gay couple, said Edward Albee, I would have written them as a gay couple. This is also the case with Company, which many have interpreted as centering a gay man who cannot acknowledge his sexuality.

If we must make Company autobiographical (and Sondheim would prefer we not) it touches not on the creator’s sexuality, but perhaps instead his inability to commit to a relationship, which his biography suggests may be true, up to a certain age.

There are no doubt people from all walks of life for whom the solitary life of Bobby/Bobbie is very familiar.

Reimagining the character as a woman who cannot commit, he had no problem with that, at least not during his final years. And that he would be engaged in the process, in his late 80s. He did not need to do that. But of course he did.

Of the many videos people are sharing today, one features Sondheim accepting his 1972 Tony Award for Follies, when he quoted the playwright David Trainer. He said that theater is “the only medium that acknowledges the presence of the audience, and that is why it will never die.”

I believe the theater will never die because of its fluidity. It resists definity. No, maybe Shakespeare did not intend Hamlet to be a woman, Iago to be black, Antonio to be gay (I mean, Antonio is totally gay) but they can be. You can do that production. I have seen them.

You can stage Into the Woods in an attic, Sweeney Todd where the actors play all the instruments, Assassins with a company of teenagers. Just remember: Having just the vision's no solution, everything depends on execution.

Yesterday, my friend Brian compared Into the Woods to Hamlet. “I'll see any production, any time and still find something new.” That, I believe, is the definition of a classic. Not that it can survive interpretation, but that it thrives on interpretation. 

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