Last Wednesday on 27th of January I had an opportunity to see drama play “Oscar Wilde: From the Depths” at Lantern Theater Company in Philadelphia. This biographical drama about Wilde’s imprisonment has impressed, I believe, not only me, but all the other visitors and has left some food for thoughts. In this review I will analyze what we have seen not only on the scene but in a combination with auditorium. The reaction of visitors before, during and after the play is also a part of overall theater performance which is interesting for admiring and interpretation.
General Impressions from the Play
Crowded hall of Lantern Theater stops in silence and sinks in the burden atmosphere of constructed cell of prison. “From the Depths” is not just only a fascinating dramatic plot, but imaginative combination of lights and shadows, which is dragging your thoughts in a cold desperate place where the main character, as well as you personally, is about to indulge in reflections on life. I find this decoration solution very appropriate for this drama as it helped to stay focused on the main plot. Having only three actors on the scene is a challenging solution. It requires constant transformations and creativeness in order not to bore the spectator. However, all actors played passionate and imaginative, dialogs were profound and touching. Moreover, even visual perception was strengthened as the main actor reminded of a young Wilde himself. It definitely has added even more vitality to spectacle and further impressions. Overall feeling from interplay between actors and scene space is pure and nude, leaving place for reception of the idea.
Reflection on the Drama
Almost all the people have at least once questioned themselves about where he is now and how he got there. Turning around this question with the help of reflection on the past, the main hero is searching for answer and final revelation. All this is implemented inside his letter to his lover, which brings us to eternal turning back to whom we love and value, even in the darkest periods of our life.
The plot itself is very flexible and adaptive for anyone of present spectators. It seems that it has no time or possible appliance on real life limits. It is just life as it is. Looking from the perspective of my business education I can say that people are facing this sudden ending of impetuous mobility every day. In the beginning it really looks like your ambitions and efforts are bringing you up on the social or economical ladder towards complete success but once in a while everyone is having their falls. Of course, while talking about theater drama play, things are more overreacted and exaggerated. On the other hand it helps to show people the true essence of the situation. In real life this question about life positioning can be thought out not in a prison cell only. However, this cell can be interpreted is an allegory on mind cage. Person can be locked there up by herself or by outside circumstances.
Personally I have left the theatre with some in depth thoughts and reflections I am almost sure many visitors too.
People attending the Play
After spectacle finished and during the intermission when lights were on I was looking around trying to identify the audience. During the intermission I had a chance to make 5 short non structured interview talks with visitors in order to understand better their motives of visiting theatre and watching the play.
One of the most remarkable details is that mostly there were people aged sixty five and plus in couples, families or their friends. This numerical superiority can be explained by different reasons. Availability of free time in the middle of week just after working hours is not always an opportunity for middle class family where both partners are working. Young people are not very attracted by theaters, probably, because of lack of promotion or overall interest. The only one category left are really people who are older and have more spare time in the evenings. Moreover, this is generation of readers who probably have appreciated the original text and wanted to see it in real.
Speaking form business point of view I could say that tickets for the play are affordable for people with average incomes, they vary from 15 till 39 dollars. This also can be a personal strategy of the theatre itself, because if prices would go up, they could have lost their potential audience. On the other hand, such augmentation could attract people from up middle class and higher. All in all we can say that it is a business issue of culture industry and here every cultural event should be elaborated considering target groups and their abilities and interests.
I find this play very useful for different age categories to watch because it can provoke certain thinking and can probably change something people’s lives. For example, the main questioning about getting in certain life point is topical for adults of thirty five years and more as well as for people who are just beginning their career path. Dialogs which were bringing the audience to Wilde’s life before imprisonment could remind of similar situations in real life. The main difference is that each age group would see this play from their perspective and already gained experience. For people who formed majority of visitors that night this drama could serve as a flash back on their lives. What they were searching and was the will to attend the play carrying some hidden pretext?
During my short talks I spoke with two ladies friends aged around fifty, one couple of man and woman aged sixty four and five and a man of thirty two. I asked them how they decided to buy tickets for the play and whereas they have read the original composition before. It has turned out that only two of questioned – the youngest man and a woman from two friends’ couple actually did. They said that one of the reasons they came that night was to see in live version what they imagined while reading. People were saying that the decision to buy tickets was mostly spontaneous, price was attractive and the plot itself interesting and promising. All of them replied that are visiting theatres once in a month or at least trying to do so. In this short overview we can assume that theater audience can be called stable even though spectacles they are attending are selectively chosen.
I have also tried to combine people’s responses with my visual perception of their looks. Speaking about people’s style of clothing I can say that mostly they were wearing smart casual outfits, quite modest and comfortable at the meantime. There was no pretext to make an impression, just simple evening out. While I was speaking with visitors I also remarked that they were feeling relaxed, comfortable and interested in the play. It can be the indication that watching the play is a sort of leisure and off work activity despite the fact that the plot is rather sensitive and dramatic.
In my opinion we still can speak about Aristotle catharsis as watching this play really invites you to be compassion and outlive this story and be purified in the end. However, regarding the audience I can suggest that they didn’t have it as a primary purpose. I believe that adult people who came to see the play were about just to enjoy the drama. To add more, the plot and its compilation with their previous life experience can make them feel themselves related to the subject. While probably trying to escape from outside world, because this is what is happening while watching movies or plays, visitors are on the contrary approaching it in more details. Like looking through magnifying glass, theater guests are empathizing characters on the scene. Can we speak about attempt to escape the routine life? In my opinion it is very possible, as everyday similarity, especially taking into consideration age of visitors, can be rather depressing and even painful. As I have mentioned before, this level of exaggeration of feelings and emotions can be seen only in places like theatre. This is why it is interesting to watch and it may distract people from their everyday life.
Theatre is a place where visitors can watch other people playing roles of different characters from worlds written masterpieces. This experience is important because audience is a part of the play because it interacts with the plot on mind level. Compassion, the sense of complete overwhelming with relief or even deeper thoughts in the end or, on the contrary, abruption and coldness – is a personal choice of every spectator in box of a theatre. It is hard to predict and read all the possible range of emotions and feelings of guests, however, make it more interesting to guess.
My personal impressions from the play were very positive and exiting, especially because I tried to combine not only scenes on the stage, but in auditorium, which was new for me. Analyzing this experience from practical and economical point of view I would be interested in different ways of promotion theater culture for those categories of people who were not present there that night because I believe it is really worth it.