A Prize in Every Box

In the summer, the theater community here in NYC takes a holiday. The only plays in town until the Fall are stale Broadway productions that have been grinding on year after year. Casts change and although the show is still running, it’s often just a shadow of what it was on opening night. One of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, August: Osage County, just lost their principal actors, so that’s that. Many shows start gimmick casting. They hire B-list actors and TV sit com stars to draw the out-of-towners and the morbidly curious. “Taylor Hicks to Make Broadway Debut in Grease!” Barf.

The exceptions to this rule are the small, intimate, experimental plays. These are shows that barely find financing and are produced in non-traditional theaters that are off the beaten path. They can either be an unexpected delight or so bad that they’re painful to watch. CB and I saw one last night, Still The River Runs, at the Center Stage theater. The Center Stage is a black box (an actual term) on 21st Street that you access by taking a tiny elevator to the 4th floor of a building that has more to do with light industry than it does theater. It’s not terribly comfortable. You sit in folding chairs, the lights are bare and hang just above your head, but it’s a pure form of theater.

I’m relieved to report that the show was a lot of fun. CB and I both enjoyed it. (I should mention that he has higher standards than I do and is harder to please. I’m a pushover.) It’s a dark comedy about two rednecks and a stolen corpse. Two very fine actors do the entire show themselves, including the set changes during the scene intervals. They manage to do an awful lot of storytelling with little more at their disposal than a few props and some raw talent and energy.

The little shows are nice, but it’s also interesting to go to Broadway and see what can be done with a bloated budget. And I don’t mean tossing money away on Taylor Hicks.

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