....When the audience is pulled into the play and can't get out.
“I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.”
Just had a great experience of this last weekend at The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. They are currently running what is arguably the greatest American drama- A Long Day's Journey Into Night. In brief it is the story of addiction and alcoholism written in the 1940s by Eugene O'Neill and based on his own life. It is a remarkable, Pulitzer Prize winning play. It is relentless in its intensity, with unbeatable dialogue that takes the audience many places they had no idea they could go. This is drama in the league of Shakespeare's King Lear or Macbeth.
Add to O'Neill's play the actors from The Guthrie and you are in something you can't get out of. You are pulled into the reality of addiction in ways that you never knew possible. You feel every ounce of pain. You want to look away in embarrassment. You don't want the play to go where you know it is going- headlong in one day's journey toward the dark.
As a season-ticket holder at The Guthrie, I am very familiar with their top-quality acting. I take it for granted. As a fan of stage drama since college (where we studied A Long Day's Journey), I am familiar with the power of great plays to turn you upside down. It is what I look for when I go to a play.
I was surprised though when friends and colleagues who were also at the performance reacted so strongly to it. They used terms like "painful" to describe the feeling of watching the Tyrone family on stage. They wanted to turn away. They had incredible visceral reactions.
We are people who live and work with addiction every day. Nothing in the play surprised any of us. Yet we all walked out exhausted, overwhelmed by the emotions flooding from O'Neill's words and the acting of the Guthrie cast.
That's great acting!