It was getting a little ridiculous, almost grimly funny. It got to the point last year when even stage companies producing mindless trifles were running off at the mouth about the significance of theater after the tragedy of Sept. 11: "Now, more than ever, we need the contemplation only theater can provide—come see Arsenic and Old Lace!" The entire frenzy often resembled some sort of kitsch opera performed by a bunch of hams, all of them building toward a high note that would have new theater leading the way in post-9/11 reflection. We are, unfortunately, still waiting for the fat lady to sing.
In many ways, lip service notwithstanding, the local theater scene is post-9/11—"post" as in "over it." Check out season schedules for the next year, and you won't see much of anything reflective or new (well, sure: new Broadway imports, new stagings of Oklahoma!, etc.). Much of this, of course, is simply due to the fact that the tragedy wreaked havoc with the economy, and theaters have been left scrambling to stay afloat. There's a reason why old favorites are coming back—they're safe, and they bring in dollars. It's hard to focus on art when you don't have the resources to fund it.
We're a nation big on post-this and post-that social posturing, and most of the time, it just means we'd like to move ahead and forget whatever came before. It's time for theater here to break that cycle. Moneymaking chestnuts are fine, as long as they're infused with an honest consideration of their relevance to the world at large (the work that Intiman artistic director Bartlett Sher is doing with classics comes to mind). We need to be embracing what still has meaning, as opposed to what still makes money. There must be a happy medium for theater, and the post-9/11 challenge is to find it.