Life Was Good

Theater Notes

Oh, sure, any yahoo can do a question- and-answer column with, say, an eccentric comedian, or, say, a legendary OC roots rocker, and be all saucy and temperamental and stuff, but how many scribes do you know who can do a Q&A with two people? Well, this one, at least. The interviewees this week are Dave Barton, the big cheese at Rude Guerrilla Theater Company, and playwright Ken Urban, whose trio of plays, The New Jersey Trilogy: Three Plays for the Garden State or a Brief History of the End of the Twentieth Century, opens next weekend at the Empire Theater in Santa Ana.

Mac Wellman, one of America's most cutting-edge contemporary playwrights, says anyone interested in (really) new theater should be aware of Urban. Urban himself says he designed these three plays to capture a moment at the end of the '90s, a "decade obsessed with a presidential blowjob and convinced that the Information Super-highway was going to make millionaires of us all."

But he opted to chuck the option of three history plays and all their itinerant grandiosity in favor of "something closer to my heart, instead: my home state of New Jersey. In writing about those surroundings, I actually captured that elusive moment of hope and despair that was the end of the bloodiest century in human history."

Here comes the Q&A part:

OC Weekly: Who is Ken Urban andwhy should we care?Dave Barton: The linear, one-set, dialogue-heavy "well-made play" is still tottering around like some undead thing that doesn't know it should just pull the dirt over itself, close its eyes and go the fuck to sleep. I like to think of Ken Urban as a kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ramming a stake through the heart of conventional theater. Ken Urban: Ken Urban is a white guy from New Jersey who writes plays that some people love a great deal and some people hate and are offended by. Why should you care? Because he will save your fucking life. And besides: What else are you going to do with your existence this summer? See some movie about a short guy who rides a horse? Please. Your press release says Urban is an original writer, someone who uses language subversively, experiments with form, uses unsettling energy and has deeply intelligent ideas. What are Urban's ideas, or themes, in these plays, and how does his use of form illuminate those ideas?Barton: I'm usually loath to talk about subtext because I expect that an audience will feel/understand it on a gut level better than I could ever explain it. But having said that, Urban's use of the Burroughs cut-up technique illustrates the idea of language fracturing and becoming meaningless over time or when it passes from one person to another, primarily in Nibblerand the poetry of housewife section in Halo . . .[He's] really tapped into the savagery of life in the teen-thrill-killer sections of Halo with the Genet-like suggestion that violence or anti-social behavior takes an individual to a different or "higher" plane. Urban: Form is the box for the content and if your content is some heavy shit, you better have the sturdy box to hold that stuff. Chicken or beef?Barton: Fish. Urban: Neither. Meat is murder. Theater is often criticized, rightly so, for appealing to those who already like it. Shakespeare fans will like Shakespeare, Neil Simon fans will like Neil Simon, musical theater fans will like musical theater. Rude Guerrilla plays, as varied as they may be, certainly do fall within a certain aesthetic, even if it's hard to clearly describe that. So, the question is, isNew Jersey Trilogy a "typical" RGTC play, and, if so, do you ever worry that your aesthetic is appealing to the same audience show after show?Barton: Ken's plays evoke a love of language, ensemble work, naked bodies, a love/hate relationship with pop culture, a jaundiced view of religion, an embrace of the underdog, a disdain for political extremes, a bleak view of the world and the blackest of black humors. So, yeah, I guess Ken and his work share the same aesthetic as our company does. But am I worried about preaching to the choir? There's always that danger, but our patrons also see plays at other theaters, so my hope is that when the work is good, it will raise the bar on their expectations of what they should be seeing locally but don't. Urban: I guess you are asking are you preaching to the choir? Probably. But everyone's choir needs some reminding. If Ken Griffey Jr. were never to play another game, would his numbers warrant his selection in the Baseball Hall of Fame?Barton: I propose a ban on all future inductees until Shoeless Joe Jackson gets a reprieve and Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon get an apology. Urban: Who the hell is this Ken Griffey Jr.? I only watch baseball for the tight uniforms.

The New Jersey Trilogy: Three Plays For The Garden State or a Brief History of the End of the Twentieth Century, Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. Opens Fri., Aug. 8. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Through Aug. 31. $12-$15.

 
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