Tom Miller’s Audience

Audience is Tom Miller’s meta-musal on theatre.

Isn’t that a laxative?

Two-person summer musical, what a piece of shit that was.

That’s theatre with an ‘re’ on the end to distinguish it not only from the cinema, but from plebian consciousness.

By treating the audience as the play, Miller forces the audience to confront itself as an ensemble, a kind of family, come together for sustenance, for ritual.

Like most rituals, considered in itself, it quickly becomes ridiculous, and, hopefully, laughable. It is after all, Tom Miller, it’s like Nothing, it’s like The Tabernacle of Hedonism, it’s like staring into the eyes of Lyin’ Ted Cruz for a solid hour, like reading all of In Cold Blood aloud, straight-through, sounding like Truman Capote, it is taking something so seriously that it’s funny, and it’s funny because nothing is ridiculous if you take it seriously enough.

There are things you can only laugh at if you know how awful the world is.

Why was I the only one laughing?

You realize you’re the only one laughing.

Am I the only one who thinks this is funny? Why am I the only one who thinks this is funny? Don’t you think it’s funny?

Sure, they get the joke, they just don’t know how fucked up the world is, and that’s why they’re not laughing, because that’s what makes it funny, not the joke.

What does Tom Miller have to say about theatre? Among other things, that it is a commercial enterprise, that a play is a commodity. He critiques it by examining its consumers. What the hell are they looking for? What will they buy?

Salvation? Forgiveness? Cheap thrills, for which they have overpaid?

Greek theatre began with Dionysus and wine and a state of delirium.

When you’re the only one who thinks it’s funny, you’re either fucked up, or you’re the only one who gets it. The other people aren’t laughing, because they don’t get it.

What if they get it, but they just don’t think it’s funny?

But it is.

That’s subjective.

Whether or not somebody laughs is not subjective.

Here is theatre as ritual, and ritual as theatre. Despite a technology capable of removing us in all but body from our physical surroundings and reducing and concentrating the universe in a few square inches of dead labor that we alternately thumb and clutch first to one ear and then the other, thinking that this gives us both sides of things, theatre still devolves to the story told around the fire. The fire creates the necessary shadows. The tension builds. It feels uncomfortable, it feels awkward,

Just try to keep track of the table-turning: The audience take their seats. There’s no curtain, so the stage is fully visible, and there’s nothing on the stage except for chairs, facing the audience, in rows, just like in the audience. The audiences take their seats gradually, assembling as they hear the recorded voice welcoming them to the Mirador State Theatre. Snerdley and Garvin take their seats as well. They have seats in the front row. They’ve paid for this.

The play in the play takes place between the two audiences. The audience is watching the same play that the actors are watching. And they are not.

There is still a fourth wall bewteen them. When the actors take their seats, the play they have come to see has not begun yet, but the play they are enacting has. Snerdley and Garvin debate whether or not to get drinks before this garbage gets going, but it has gotten going going and they are it, but what they see when they look straight out into the audience is a play that has not begun yet. In fact, they are looking at a curtain.

“When the curtain goes up, the actors are the audience, and they look at us like we’re the play, and it goes on like that.”

The play that Snerdley and Garvin have come to see doesn’t begin until an Old Lady (Arleen Wolf) arrives and comandeers a seat, which causes everyone to miss the beginning of the play.

Garvin would have missed it anyway, since he is still trying to get those drinks. Snerdley might have seen it, had he not been distracted by the Old Lady, who now goes on distracting him once the play has begun.

There are two distinct and separate plays: the play the real audience watches, which the actors onstage perform; and there is the play that the characters in the play see, which, for them, is like looking in a mirror.

In a mirror everything is reversed.

And then there is also the wavy mirror of the funhouse, which reflects and distorts everything at the same time.

It feels uncomfortable, then it feels awkward, and then it is over. We consume our theatre like fast food, Mexican like Taco Bell, or Polish, or Chinese, or Cats or Rocky Horror, throw it all in the fire.

Garvin is played with grace and panache by Michael Garvin, in considerably more than a cameo, the fascination attached to this mythological creature proceeding from his bizarre grasp of the arcane, which he clutches as tightly as Snerdley does his program, and as Gadget Girl (Xan Abraxas) will her phone.

Snerdley’s character, the auteur confides, is imbued with certain aspects of his own personality – his punctiliousness (“On time is late, so please hurry”), his occasional cattiness “How fabulous is this? Look at you!”), but those are only on the surface. Beneath is someone who lives for theatre, who believes in culture, whose story is a play.

Linda (Carolyne Salt), a lady from New Jersey, is seated in the second row, and she knows just what to expect and how to expect it and even if she doesn’t know what it is, she knows how to enjoy, because, why not, right? Linda is based on a real life woman from New Jersey whose name is not Linda.

Then there is Carl. He burts onto the scene. Carl is a burster, as played by George Steven O’Brien he is indeed the quintessential burster of balloons, loud, abrasive, unpredictable, and often right on the money, cut to the chase, no bullshit.

All of this presupposes an environment, not just a setting. The audience, the real audience, you find yourself in a familiar place, the theatre, by way of suspending disbelief, especially if you are not in a theatre, if you are in the Slate or the Harback Cafe, say, but now the full weight of Shakespeare’s phrase “All the world’s a stage” hits home, because if the audience is the play and the actors are the audience, then not only are there two audiences, there are no audiences.

There is no audience.

How far can this conceit be carried out?

Infinitely.

The Old Lady is from Manhattan, and we know that almost no one is from Manhattan, because Manhattan is not a place where one resides. People work and play in Manhattan, but almost no one lives there. There are other burroughs to burrow in, but Manhattan is made out of money, that’s why they call it Manhattan.

Almost no one is from Manhattan, but the Old Lady is.

You know who lives in Manhattan?

Theatre.

Plays live in Manhattan or nowhere at all. There is no play in the history of the universe that can ever be considered a success that has not played in Manhattan.

This play is not playing in Manhattan. It’s playing at the Mirador.

In the real audience there’s you. Who’s with you? See anybody you know?

Just theatregoers, locals, bar-hoppers, hipsters, thrill-seekers.

Gadget Girl, a late arrival, has to write about this play for class, and she’s well-equipped to do so, wielding her phone and dim wit to illuminate the extent of our collective tawdriness. Perhaps we can help her. Now, what was it about again?

1 thought on “Tom Miller’s Audience

  1. Pingback: Big Plans | shamrockmcshane

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