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But Is It Art?

by Stephen Lautens

July 16, 1999

I've always enjoyed theatre.

It started with my debut as a rat in my grade 3 class production of the Pied Piper. Before you can say it was typecasting, you should know I was offered the lead. I declined when I learned the Piper had to wear a green leotard.

I suffered a flashback in university when I was lured into an avant guarde production of Hamlet with the promise of sword fighting. It turned out that the starring role in Hamlet was going to be played by a good friend who happened to be a woman.

That was fine, except at the last minute it was decided that the costumes would be just a white shirt and different coloured leotards. They left nothing to the imagination. And because Hamlet was being played by a woman, it appeared that I had a larger part than the star - at least as far as the people in the front row where concerned.

More recently I've been happy enough to sit in the audience and let someone else do all the work. But it's getting hard to see a normal play anymore. They're not content to have talented actors tell an interesting story. There has to be some bizarre twist to shake up the audience.

As a result, there seems to be no end of wacko theater these days. I read a recent program for alternative fringe theatre and the plays in it looked something like this:

Digesting Billy Waterson: A powerful play that takes place entirely inside an enormous large intestine. This riveting drama explores Billy Waterson's allegorical struggle against the ancient forces of nature that threaten to absorb us all. Due to the special effects used in the finale, the audience is warned to wear old clothes ­ especially the first three rows.

La Grande Muskrat: This one woman show has just finished a triumphant tour of Quebec's Festival des Frites. It is based on a true story about a woman convinced that she is being followed everywhere by Lucien Bouchard's enormous eyebrow. It is a moving commentary on the many dangers lurking on Quebec's road to self-determination. Winner of the prestigious Prix Fixe.

Chronic Care: An uplifting tale in which everyone dies at the end in a hacking fit caused by various loathsome diseases. Our guide is the cross-dressing heroin-addicted artist Effram Pitts, who gives a haunting speech about the nobilty of life behind a dumpster.

Heaven's Gates: Microsoft founder Bill Gates wakes up to find himself dead. In a Dante-esque journey from heaven to the underworld, Bill Gates discovers that hell is simply a beta version of Windows 98.

Seven Brides For Seven Sisters: The all-lesbian revival of the 50s classic musical will have you tapping your Birkenstocks. Audience members wearing plaid flannel get in for half price.

Peas!: Audiences will either love or hate this late entry into the Festival. The entire play consists of two and a half hours of a mute man on stage hitting a can of peas ­ one at a time ­ with a mallet. The audience is left to discover its own meaning in this disturbing image.


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