Monday, March 15, 2010

the long red road

on the road

I subscribed to the current season at the Goodman because it promised the premiere of The Long Red Road, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I’m a Hoffman fan. Missing his Iago was one of the bigger disappointments of the last theatre season. I patiently endured Synecdoche, New York for Hoffman (and for Charlie Kaufman) because he gave up such a brilliant performance in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Hoffman’s performance in Charlie Wilson’s War drew solid lines around the cartoons of Tom Hanks’ and Julia Roberts’ performances. His Capote? Was Capote.

Hoffman’s directing was why I showed up yesterday at the matinee performance, but soon I found myself curled in the same aversive cringe that overcame me when I saw him play his over-amped meteorologist in Twister.

As a simple assemblage of parts, the play was a success. The stagecraft was sublime, disparate lives scattered across Western states somehow intertwined through the shared bits and pieces of any household: The front door. A bathroom.

The disappointment? A play that never lulled long enough in its steady rage -- fueled disparately by either alcohol or resentment -- to reveal the tender underbelly of any of our players; to give us a point of empathy from which to enlist in the brutality of a ride that ends in violation and death and conflagration.

Or as Mr. Hoo stated as we made our way out of the theater: “Sadly, I couldn’t bring myself to give a sh*t about any of those f*ckers.”

True: Several audience members walked out in the first act, one loudly intoning “Garbage. This is garbage.” Many more never made it back after intermission.

I held on because I wanted to believe something more would unfold to make me care about these characters; to redeem them. In the end, just as our blonde saviour Annie learns through her fruitless love for a tired and dying alcoholic, there was no change, there was no transformation, all remained as it was from the beginning, driving down to its inevitable end, as if foretold in the first few scenes.

Perhaps it was just this inevitability that Mr. Hoffman was striving for, like the sodden, shaky dullness of the hangover that certainly follows the binge. Maybe he achieved his directive after all.

1 comment:

a.m. said...

Beautifully written.

I too recently have been thinking on the theme of redemption. A rare night off was spent watching "Crazy Heart" which lives on the other side of the coin from your experience of "The Long Red Road."

An alcoholic turns his life around, almost effortlessly with minimal collateral damage and seemingly smooth transitions. I left feeling much the same as Mr. Hoo, only for the opposite reasons. Too redemptive, too easy, too clean.

I wonder if the experience of redemption in theater, film, art etc. hasn't become something of a commodity--an expected outcome to redeem a world that certainly seems to need its share of it.

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