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Theatre: Supersize that? Or make it a slider?

By Robert W. Bethune
ART TIMES May 2014

Someone at The Economist likes Will Eno’s plays. It’s impossible to say who; their pieces all go unsigned and the writing style there exhibits a degree of uniformity surely impossible to enforce without flagellation. Be that as it may, the unknown voice begins, “So much theatre is big and juicy.” It continues to praise Will Eno’s work for being small and juicy.

There’s a thought to be mulled in that. We all know one axis of theater: from tragedy to comedy. Frye spins the axis to make a circle. What if there’s another axis that’s been sitting right in front of us all along? I mean from small to large.

We can easily think of big comedies: the Comedy of Errors comes to mind: lots of funny people, lots of funny events, lots of noise, action, louder-faster-funnier to the max. We can think of small comedies; a couple by Lanford Wilson come to mind. Likewise, big and small tragedies are pretty easy to find. Do not the little comedies have a lot in common with the little tragedies? Everyday life? Realism? A focus on the way events that do not shake the world can nevertheless shake up a life or two, for good or ill?

I think there is food for thought here. Just as thinking through life in comedic or tragic terms reveals fundamentals of human attitudes and ideas, so too does thinking it through in terms of big or small.

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