Friday, May 9, 2008

Play of the Week: Hotel Cassiopea

One of my theatre professors once told me: "read the theory; it's important. But make sure that you read their plays along side it as well."

I think it is very important to keep theatre "in context." As we muse over the philosophical merits of theatre alongside the practical applications and profitability; what is a better reflections of practical application than the play itself.

This week I give you Hotel Cassiopea by Charles Mee. While not the most revolutionary new play to come along and not even on of Mee's best or most famous, it gives us an angle into addressing (or at least proving further discussion on) several of the things that have been brought up in this blog.

Mee excels at taking old stories and infusing them with pop culture references. He doesn't necessarily change the plot or the setting. He simply takes the language that we hear on TV, in the movies, in pop music or in the media and tells the stories in that fashion. In this associative collage, the piece becomes more meaningful. Mee has provided it a context where it is in dialogue not only with itself and its audience, but with everything else it is referencing. Now a few words referencing a whole other body of work can make those few words mean so much more.

Younger audiences are beginning to move beyond linear story telling (Cameron discusses this in one of his addresses that will be discussed on this blog in the near future). They are accustom to following strands of information linked together by the internet. They enjoy the shuffle mode to create their own life's soundtrack on their iPods. Indeed, HipHop music and its technique of "sampling" bits and pieces of other music to form something new is a style that the younger people of this country are eating up. Mee's plays are some of theatre's emerging attempts to accomplish this on stage.

Not only that, but all of Mee's plays are available on his website, free of charge. (note: he has taken careful efforts to make the plays available for reading, though they are still bound by performance rights and copyright.)

So onto the play at hand. Whole parts of early Bogart films are interspersed into the play with the main character, Joseph, doubling Bogart's lines. Discussions about birdwatching and had by an Astronomer, Herbalist, and Pharmacist. A ballerina enters in the middle of the play to give the monologue of her life story.

The plot does not follow a linear arc. Joseph's journey does not necessarily form a linear arc, but then again, how many of our lives do. With his final lines "I have spend my life looking for true love and never found it... Have I? Yes" we have not arrived at the culmination of his story, but are forced to go back in our minds through the whole play we have just seen. The play is only able to attain meaning once we have weighed our experience against all that it references.

Again Hotel Cassiopea is not the end all and be all that will change theatre. It may even be soon forgotten. But it does provide an interesting form of associative thinking. And while it may not be the best example, it will definitely force you to think about the things it is trying to accomplish and how it goes about doing this. You may even be frustrated by this read - but I think you will get more out of this particular frustration than you will out of a "nice read."

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