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Tom Stoppard has been keeping it real since 1982 when “The Real Thing” premiered in the West End. Now you can catch the realness courtesy of the Boomerang Theatre Company at The Secret Theater in Long Island City.
“Be not afraid of greatness” is the advice Malvolio gets from an anonymous letter in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.” Our officious, comedic villain hopes the greatness of his mistress Olivia will be thrust upon him, a thought that tickles him in all the wrong places. Ever ready to put a subordinate in his place or flatter his betters, when he sees the opportunity to move up the social ladder a rung or two Malvolio exults in the thought that he could be better than he is.
The idea that you can be better than you are was laughable to the play’s Elizabethan audience. You were born into your place; you stay in your place; and morality consists of being faithful to who you are. People act immorally when they put on airs, or act beneath their station. We laugh at the type of fool Malvolio represents in hopes that public scorn will teach him a lesson in humility. It’s an important lesson to learn, because those who don’t learn it turn into tyrants and / or corpses.
Live theater aims for two things: truth and intensity. Oftentimes they are in a zero-sum relationship to one another. That is, the more you have of one, the less you can have of the other. On one hand, truth commonly understood is elusive, messy, and boring. Reading a thousand cotton-mouthed books might get you close to understanding why your pension is still in peril. Intensity, on the other hand, is crack cocaine or sugar coated choco-bombs: full of immediate high, it can’t be weighed down by buzz killing substances like facts. Take, for example, any speech by Sarah Palin. Occasionally, however, a play can convey a great truth and be intense at the same time. That is most definitely the case with The Tender Mercies playing this week at the Teatro Círculo on East 4th Street.
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What does a world without hope look like? Is it a bleak moonscape — black sky, cold sun, gray hills? Or is it the too perfect world of American suburbia, where the sun — and the smiles — shine a little too bright; where too-green, cultivated lawns lead to soothing interiors, painted in shades named “Ocean Side”, “Interactive Cream”, and “Moderate White”; where real freedom is banished to the gritty, marginal, blind spots of ubiquitous surveillance cameras?
The Realm, running from now until April 18th at The Wild Project in the East Village, is a futuristic dystopia in the tradition of American post-apocalyptic dystopias like Logan’s Run, A Boy and His Dog (remember that one? Don Johnson starred in the movie!), and, closer to our time, Urinetown. The time is the not-too-distant future. After an unnamed cataclysm, humanity has been forced underground. Natural resources are scarce — especially water. Human beings have learned how to live spare, lean lives, stripped of all superfluity — and fun. And, for that matter, freedom. Water is rationed, life is rationed, even words are rationed.