Friday, February 5, 2010

Bye Bye (sob), Sleep No More

The Punchdrunk contingent left the country in mid-November after entrusting their work to competent American performers and managers. Now, after a month long extension, SNM is staging its final Boston area performances this weekend. For those of you who missed it, you truly missed a once in a lifetime experience. (Performances have been sold out for weeks now and good luck getting in standby. Last weekend, people started queuing at one o’clock in the afternoon to try to get in). Their work is venue dependent so even if SNM is performed in another place at another time, it’ll never be the same. Like sex and really good food, maybe the best art is ephemeral, several intense exquisite moments and then, aah, aah, ahh! it’s over. Just an exquisite memory.

WBUR did a story yesterday morning about the “greening” of the new MFA addition and an MFA curator said “art preservation is a race against time”. Is it still art once it’s been preserved? I mean the art that serves a greater function than adorning an empty space on a wall: the art that gets people talking (about more than how much a piece has sold for) and arguing and engaged; the art that inspires a multitude of emotions, not all of them pleasant. Uncertainty, awkwardness, and fear as well as euphoria, curiosity, and a dreamlike whimsy were all part of the SNM experience.

SNM was not just a theatrical experience it was that kind of art: engaging and inspiring. Every dressed room at the Old Lincoln School in its degraded 5 month old form continues to be a morphing, living art installation, an art installation that can be smelled and heard and touched and swallowed. But the experience doesn’t end when you exit the building. There is so much to discuss: what you saw, what was done with you, where you went, who was that character?

Diane Paulus, ART Artistic Director, deserves kudos for bringing this show to town. She has said that she was working in London when she first heard of Punchdrunk. She’d go into Tesco and the store clerks were talking about Punchdrunk and the professional theatre people she was working with were talking about Punchdrunk: everybody was talking about Punchdrunk. You can’t help but want to talk about the performance after you’ve visited one. And you can’t help but want to go back.

A rather buttoned-down work colleague went with his wife and 15-year-old daughter who doesn’t usually talk much to them. The daughter spent the ride home, and time in the kitchen when they got home and more time the following day talking to her parents about SNM. The work colleague was delighted to have some (rare) rapport with his teenage daughter. I gave birthday tix to a friend who became obsessed (like me) and attended four performances. Many people donated their time for free to steward performances several evenings a week. It’s that kind of inspirational and I feel honored that I got to be a tiny little part of it.

I know my hometown can be a bigoted backwater but for this past Fall, at least, we were host to something magical and transcendent: the thrill that participation in grown-up make-believe can create and the vivid memories it leaves behind.

Thanks, Punchdrunk. Please come again!

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