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By ROBERT BETHUNE
Theatricality is why a black man can play Henry VI or a white man can play Othello or a woman can play Hamlet or a man can play Dolly Levi. In a history classroom, we know that Henry VI wasnt black, and we care about it. In the theater, we know that he wasnt black, and we dont care about it. Thats because when we come to the theater, we come to see what a live actor on stage in front of us will do with that tortured monarch. We dont want data; we want to be moved, to be intrigued, to be surprised. The performer who plays the part brings a particular mind, a particular heart, a particular sensitivity to the role, and thats what we care about.
Theatricality is why we dont gots to show you no stinkin unities. The Renaissance writers who dreamed up the unities by adding too much thought to not enough Aristotle simply had no idea what they were doing. The theater is not about limitations; it is about imaginative freedom. In the theater, we can move in time and space at will. We can hop from one century to another if we like. We can bring people together who never met because they lived hundreds of years apart or thousands of miles apart or both. What would Marx have said to Jesus? For that matter, what would Jesus have said to Marx? We can take a crack at the answer to a question like that because theater is theatrical, i.e. unlimited as the imagination is unlimited. "Let us on your imaginary forces work."
Theatricality is why imagination rules and reality can just go take a hike. If we want to go to Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, we can. If we want devils to rise out of the ground, they can. If we want to, we can turn out and do an aside or a soliloquy and talk directly to the audienceas if they were there! My God! What a thought! That the audience is there and we can talk to them! Thats the greatest theatricality of allto remember and act upon the fact that the performer and the audience, the preparer and the partaker, share the same space and time and air together.
Ultimately theatricality is why we do theater at all. If all we wanted to do was tell significant stories and see people do what they do, we could get along very well without theater. Film and TV would do the job just fine. But when we want theater, film and TV dont cut it, because they dont have theatricality. We dont get the living presence of the performer in those forms. We dont get the utter freedom of the imagination that comes from being in the theater. Theatricality lets us soar together, in one place and space, and that gives us rewards we just dont get anywhere else.