The Timeless and the Time-bound
Updated: Oct 28, 2020
All works of art, without exception, are not only completely made on the basis of the limits of the real life situation in which their creators and/or producers and audiences live and find themselves, but also always, already possess a life extending into the longest conceivable future (if we are generous enough to grant them this).
They are about both the eras of their making as well about any actual or conceivable human society at any time. In short, they are timeless as well as time bound.
From the period of roughly 1968 all the way through the mid 1980s, I had the greatest fortune to attend many of the productions that were created in New York City.
As you can see from the photo above this could be quite an eclectic collection.
Seeing Marvin Hamlisch and Neil Simon's musical THEYR"E PLAYING OUR SONG with Robert Klein and Lucie Arnaz on Broadway was as different an experience from seeing Charles Ludlum's Ridiculous Theatre Company (very) off Broadway production.
I loved both, of course. (More on that later).
Educated in this way by my family, we always saw productions in the middle of the Summer, an ideal time in the 70s and 80s since expenses were low and the city felt about half populated due to the apparent vacationing of the perhaps more affluent of New Yorkers as well as fears of crime etc.
The productions that immediately come into my mind from that stretch of time, mainly because they were so excellent and inspiring as to be wholly unforgettable even after single and singular attendances include:
The Basic Training Of Pavlo Hummel with Al Pacino , (which was one of the most searing and devastating things I have ever seen on a stage.
I was in the front row) the 1976 Shakespeare in Central Park MEASURE FOR MEASURE with Meryl Streep and John Cazale.
As well as the production of Same Time, Next Year with Charles Grodin and Ellen Burstyn, Sondheim's COMPANY, SWEENEY TODD, and SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, all in their original productions, the production of Mike Nichols and David Rabe's HURLYBURLY with William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Walken, Cynthia Nixon , Judith Ivey and Jerry Stiller.
I saw most of the classic Bob Fosse musicals, notably PIPPIN (the original with John Rubinstein , who also found time to write the t.v. theme for the t.v. show FAMILY and heaven knows what else , Jill Clayburgh and Ben Vereen ) and CHICAGO ( the only one for me - with Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera and Jerry Orbach),
I saw the rock musicals HAIR and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR,some early Sam Shephard, including COWBOY MOUTH. And SUGAR BABIES with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller.
In our family Joseph Papp, Julian Beck and Judith Malina,and George Abbott were household names.
And the Robin Williams and Steve Martin version of Waiting For Godot.
I know I have left out some things. I wanted this list to be lengthy and dense enough to invoke many associations in the reader as well as to give some sense of the vastness of a kind of world.
In the most real sense you could say that this podcast was being birthed in those years.
I was a child and a teenager but I was "being exposed" (that awful phrase beloved of pediatricians and child psychologists everywhere) to culture in the widest sense.
More importantly, given our episodes with Austin Pendleton and Melanie Mayron , I was being exposed to that magical ritual that can only happen with those people we call actors of the caliber of the names I mention, perform and enact a text in that sacred space that we call theatre.
When actors represent people through words and body languages, a sort of likeness of people you could recognize from life or the so-called real world, I can say that the greatest effect such live performances had upon me as a developing human being was an exponential, quantum leap in both imagination and comprehension.
I was also getting an insight into how art works are made more generally, since I believe such theatre productions deal with the same material as other art mediums such as story, human psychology, the forms representations will be created in, and much more.
The titles I mention are stylistically diverse: there are commercial productions aimed to please the broadest of audiences, yet there are those that are uncompromising, whether in radical politics or form (David Rabe or Charles Ludlum) or are motivated by a rejection perhaps of certain of the qualities of those same "mainstream" audiences to which the Broadway hits catered.
I want to say a few words on this question of the high and low (which still hold as descriptions even as they are relatively invalid as evaluations).
Intention (or motivation) is less important than we think it is.
There is no guarantee that an art object motivated by chiefly commercial or monetary considerations, or possessing a mass appeal or reach, will be any less artistically valuable than an art object considered utterly free from such constraints.
Indeed the very "mass" character of the popular art object gives the object in question the potential to possess more insight into matters of daily life and concern, and thus human society more generally, than art objects that are separate from such mass constraints and compromises.
Yet having said all of this, I am under no illusions that it is not the case that some of the greatest works of art are elevated as such by virtue of their pushing back against majority assumptions and tastes and can safely fall under the rubric of "uncompromising".
At one time I had fifty or so Playbills, as I had about twice as many record albums.
When I moved I managed to retain a mere handful, as I carefully let go of about half these.
Like this podcast they are chiefly of aesthetic interest to me, by which I mean that they are attempts to bring something of daily and regular life into highly abstract and distilled forms such that they can be mediums for our reflection and mediation.
That is undoubtedly a highfalutin way of putting things but I chose my words carefully.