|The young Alan Bennett.|
With all good intentions I bought myself a ticket. I even planned to go while John was out of town. At least I thought I did. For some reason I bought my ticket for the night John was returning home from an 11-day business trip. You can imagine how hard it was for me to tear myself away from John, Lucy, and home on John's first night back in town. But, contrary to some previous bad behavior and lots of lost money over tickets not used, I actually did manage to get myself to the theater and I am so glad I did.
I found Bennett's The Habit of Art so much more interesting than his play The History Boys. I will, however, admit that part of my dislike of The History Boys had to do with the fact that I saw it on a big proscenium stage on Broadway. I just don't like seeing theater in that kind of venue. Having cut my theatrical teeth in the audience of the (original) Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis with its thrust stage immediacy, I am left cold by productions in more traditional theater spaces. Anyhoo, being in the second row of the gently thrusting Studio Theater for The Habit of Art was intimate indeed.
|The more vigorously thrusting stage at the|
original Guthrie in Minneapolis
The Habit of Art presents a play within a play which makes it somewhat hard for me to convey the plot. Unlike some other plays within plays, this one is rather intricately woven together in a way that really blurs the lines sometimes. And I think Bennett goes out of his way to toy with the conceit. Set in a rehearsal room at the National Theatre in London a group of actors rehearse a play about Auden and Britten. While I enjoyed the play within the play as it explored the lives of Auden and Britten, I think I appreciated the play outside the play even more. As I struggle to write this I realize I won't come close to conveying how this all works out and how much fun it is. But it is fun. One of the funnier moments that illustrates the moving back and forth between the play and the play within in the play happens when actor Fitz who is rehearsing his role as Auden audibly farts. He looks at the stage manager and says "That was Auden farting, not me."
The set was wonderfully cluttered and English, right down to the fire exits and the acting was generally very good. Since most of you aren't local, I won't go into too much detail about the actors. Ted van Griethuysen played the actor playing Auden and was fantastic. However, Paxton Whitehead who was also fantastic as the actor who was playing Britten is someone you have all seen before. That is if you have watched popular US sitcoms or films over the past 20 years. On those sitcoms (Friends, Frasier, Mad About You, etc.) he is generally forced to play stereotypical caricatures of the British gent, but here he was able to be a much more normal version of the same.
Ted van Griethuysen and Paxton Whitehead. Photograph by Scott Suchman
Seeing something this enjoyable makes me think I need to get back into the habit of art.