Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, October 07, 2007

LeCompte goes to every performance of every Wooster Group play. She folds herself into an aisle seat, next to whatever assistant is logging her complaints or her satisfactions, and tries to pretend that no one will recognize her, though of course by now some do. She is an avid eavesdropper. She has been known to tape the comments that her audiences make after a performance, and even accused of planning to use them for a new play. (She denies the part about the play, but not the part about the taping.) She enjoys the thrill of anonymity; she says it gives her a kind of nice power, and, besides, she could never endure the scrutiny she gives her actors. “I hide from being watched by watching,” she once said. Even the thought of having her picture taken leaves her close to panic -- though you can catch glimpses of her in the rehearsal videotapes stored upstairs at the Garage; she is the small blond woman scurrying across the stage in old jeans, a baggy black pullover, and bright-red flats.

Jane Kramer’s profile of Elizabeth LeCompte, director of the Wooster Group, in the current issue of The New Yorker has a moment that perfectly illustrates New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm’s notorious statement, “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”

Given that the picture at the top of this post illustrates the quote, there’s a story going on here, and Kramer isn’t telling it. It’s apparently the story of Kramer and photographer Sylvia Plachy breaking down LeCompte’s panic at having her picture taken. But I think it’s the story of LeCompte deciding to abandon her anonymity while pretending not to. The pretense is supposed to work to flatter the reader into believing that he or she has been allowed into a secret, as Kramer boasts of having been.

“Well,” in effect says Kramer, “you’d recognize her if someone -- probably her -- were to let you into her storage unit to look at old rehearsal videos -- you wouldn’t miss her then, she’s the blond scurrying about.”

It’s so coy, all the way around! A conspiracy between writer and subject to flatter the reader. Silly.

Other than that flurry of duplicity, the profile serves good thought-food. There’s a whole multi-media performance-theater tradition of which I’m barely cognizant; the article mentions famous directors Peter Sellars, Richard Foreman, and Robert Wilson, all of whom I’d heard of and read about, and all of whom name LeCompte as their better. I’d never heard of LeCompte, but I’d heard of her group, some of their productions, and some of the attendant controversies. And I’ve never seen any productions by any of them.

The article also proves that if you want to get national recognition in theater, you have to go to New York. I’ve known three companies -- one in Seattle and two in Chicago -- that put on wonderful original work for years -- the two in Chicago are still at it after more than 20 years -- and they have no national profile at all. The director of the Seattle group quit to focus on his writing and editing; he’s written several books to great acclaim and bought a house on Vashon Island. But as successful as he has been as a writer, I liked him much more as a theater director. Truly gifted. But there was no money to do the theater he wanted to do.

LeCompte’s approach to theater interests me. Some day I’ll have to get to New York and check out some of that big-money multi-media media-friendly theater for myself.

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FWIW, Wooster Group performed several times at On The Boards in Seattle in the 1980s and '90s so (depending on how long you've lived there), you may have already missed a chance or two to see what they do.

I haven't lived there for anout 8 years, so I'm not sure if what they do and what OTB does is still a possible fit.
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