Broadway Flops for COVID
I think that Broadway theaters should be allowed to re-open, but only if they present the biggest flops or abrasive avant-garde spectacles. This will naturally promote social distancing as well as challenge the notion that all entertainment is relative.
Let me begin with a play that is synonymous with failure: 1983's "Moose Murders." The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. There have been other failures like "Subways are for Sleeping" and "Carrie," but "Moose Murders" is still legendary.
We can't even have failures like "Moose Murders" these days. The pre-testing and limited variety of corporate franchises assures that the only flops will be rather literal, such as "Spiderman," which was an act of workers' comp insurance masquerading as a musical.
The days of producing on a hunch with a mostly unknown cast, even wrongheaded, are gone. Essentially, "Moose Murders" was a vanity project financed by Texas oil money with a first time director who cast his wife as one of the leads. Add to that a young, overpraised, overconfident playwright and the secret sauce was brewed. Consider a brief synopsis of the plot [per Wikipedia}:
The Holloway family is trapped by a snowstorm in a lodge they just bought. Also trapped are failed entertainers who had worked at the lodge before the Holloways arrived, and Nurse Dagmar, who cares for Sidney Holloway, an apparent vegetable. They pass the time playing a murder mystery game. During the night, one Holloway son attempts incest with his mother, and several murders take place. At one point, a mummified paraplegic rises from his wheelchair to kick a man dressed as a moose in the crotch.
Mother: Your father is a vegetable.
Girl: You mean like asparagus? Yuck!
Holy Mac! Well, it still beats coronavirus…perhaps.
Even outrageous, offensive camp needs good direction. John Waters or Charles Ludlam MIGHT have been able to set the right tone, but from all reports, the director may as well have been directing in a foreign language.
Other fun facts:
--Elderly actress EVE ARDEN could not remember her lines or stage directions, rendering the play even more incomprehensible than it already was.
BROADWAY THEATER AS HOMELESS SHELTER!
At the press preview, the audience was filled out with mental patients and homeless men covered in their own vomit. Times reviewer Frank Rich and Wendy Wasserstein had to retreat to the back of the theatre to escape the smell. Social distancing, eighties style!
SOUNDS, WHAT SOUNDS!
The use of high tech sound effects and multiple sound speakers was en vogue in 1983, and the production crew was infatuated with their new high decibel toy. The problem was the big sound effects made the laugh lines (such as they were) inaudible, adding another layer of inscrutability to the play.
--One of the credits in the playbill includes a "violence coordinator."
--An anonymous old stagehand lamented, "I have never witnessed a curtain call where an actor bowed to complete silence."
The April 21, 2008 article from vulture.com makes this salient point:
[The mean reviews of Moose Murders] "made us nostalgic for a time when reviewers would trash a show without worrying about hurting anyone's feelings.
The diminishment of journalistic and economically independent critics prevents not only honest criticism, but also honest praise.
THE BIRTH OF THE POET
Kathy Acker was a writer whose talent for self-promotion and posing greatly exceeded her artistic ability. By 1985 her epater les bourgeoisie cocky doody shtick had gained enough heat to warrant a Brooklyn Academy of Music theatrical production titled, "The Birth of the Poet." BAM's own website states:
The Birth of the Poet was reviled at its premiere: the audience (those who hadn't already walked out) barraged the actors with boos, and the next day's reviews unanimously echoed the audience's rage. The Birth of the Poet is considered one of the most panned shows of the Next Wave. Kathy Acker's scatological text told a sexually charged tale of apocalypse that jumped between an atomically blasted New York of the future, ancient Rome, and Iran in the 1980s. Richard Foreman's direction added another layer of meaning…Peter Gordon's score was an unceasing collage of noise and incidental music that often worked against the actors' speech*… Certainly, there was a lot to absorb in this prickly, punky, neo-Dada melting pot (or meltdown, depending on who you ask).
[*Note that sound drowning out the actors appeared to be a staple of the 1980s.]
Like Stravinsky and Duchamp, "The Birth of the Poet" was jeered in its day. Thirty-five years later, it is...still regarded as a pretentious mess!
BETTER THAN WATCHING COVID NEWS?
GOT TU GO DISCO!
It's just like "Saturday Night Fever," only bad. But it won't matter because the tourists will want to see a Broadway musical about the latest dance craze when they can't get into Studio 54!
Critic John Simon wrote, "I wouldn't pay tu cents to see it."
METAL MACHINE MUSIC
Lou Reed's double album of amplifiers feeding back through some effects is undoubtedly a statement of pure sound. Actually watching a bunch of amplifiers on stage cranking out ear-splitting feedback would assure extreme social distancing.
BETTER THAN COVID? This one may drive the audience to prefer the more mellow sounds of Covid death statistics.