Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mary Zimmerman's Odyssey

One of the most defining moments in my theatrical development was the first time I saw a Mary Zimmerman production. It was the third show I'd seen in Chicago (Forever Plaid and 2nd City being the first two) and the first show at the Goodman Theatre. I got lucky and received tickets in the first row of the Goodman's old space by the Art Institute. I never had seen anything like it.

The sweeping spectacle of very simple images made a huge and visceral impact on me. The first image of a child reading a book downstage and a muse emerging from behind the raked stage at the very upstage most point was so stunning. Watching the body move from far away and enter into the same space with us was like watching a figure step out of a forced perspective drawing. I'd not seen anything like it.

Zimmerman's bread and butter is creative staging. Ten years later some of her tricks that elicited gasps of awe from me are old hat now. But the immediacy of her work is still effective and affecting. She makes us aware that we are only sitting in a theatre - she doesn't try to mask the magic of the theatre. But by laying the "theatre" out there in front of us and exposing the device behind the illusion, it somehow makes the trick so much more effective.

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