Warning: The following column contains the F-word, the G-word, references to bestiality, and the glaring use of inference and opinion.
Seattle's ACT Theatre, which made national headlines when it came thisclose to going belly-up with a whopping $1.5 million debt, sent out an apprehensive letter to its subscribers last week that came thisclose to bringing my belly up. In a move to coddle any theatergoers who might be frightened by the concept of theater, artistic director Kurt Beattie signed a kindly missive alerting folks to the fact that ACT's current production of Edward Albee's stunning The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? contains obscene language and deals with "well, how can I say thisa controversial relationship between a man and a goat."
The letter does encourage attendance, dutifully notes the play's Tony Award-winning brilliance and Albee's esteemed status in American theater, and briefly articulates the metaphorical and thematic implications of goat-fucking, before stating Beattie's faith "in the intellectual depth and openness of ACT's subscribers." It then, however, offers anyone of intellectual depth and openness who is "uncomfortable" with the notion of even seeing Sylvia the chance to exchange their tickets for something safer among the season's other shows.
I know times are tough all over, but please. Is it just me, or does this make Seattle sound as embarrassingly midcentury as The Seattle Times did when it got national press last August for refusing to run ads for the explicitly sexual Spanish art-house flick Sex and Lucía? If this is a regular marketing practice in regional theater, I'm genuinely saddened. If this is how a postcrisis ACT plans to broaden communication with its subscribers, I'm alarmed. Beattie is no idiothis theater is just now tentatively up on its feet again, and he's only keeping a wary eye on a much-needed audience that may find its jaw on the floor after Albee knocks it upside the head. Yet how much sense does it make to produce challenging theater and then tell the people who could most benefit from the challenge that it's OK if they need their mommies?
I'm aware that ACT has a financial hole to dig out of, and I acknowledged in my preview last week that Albee's play may widen the eyes and close the pocketbooks of the company's subscriber base. ACT should be proud for making such a choice at such a time in its history. Balancing escapism with artistic enrichment, however, is a theater's job, and ACT's pride should be lessened by providing such an easy out.
Albee's magnificence in Sylvia, arguably his greatest work since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is such that it will unsettle just about everybody, regardless of how prepared they assume themselves to be. There is no copulation onstage, butas director Warner Shook pointed out last weekquadruped amour is the least of the play's shockers. Sylvia confronts you with the discomforts of your own secret shame. That ACT is allowing adults to avoid such a necessary emotion should leave it red-faced as well.