Thursday, November 30, 2006


A couple of weeks ago I saw Ian W. Hill's first-rate production of Václav Havel's dense and intriguing play, Temptation (where not only President Havel but Madeline Albright was in attendance) with George, Joanne, MattJ and Patrick.

Since Temptation, including intermission, nearly hit the three-hour mark, we started talking afterwards about how rare it is nowadays to see an Off-off show that passes the 90-minute mark in terms of running length. George's show, In Public, was only about 70 minutes long. So was Nosedive's own The Adventures of Nervous-Boy. Even Nosedive's next play, Suburban Peepshow, is only about an hour long.

This seems to be a common trend with current Off-off plays. In fact, I perused my list of the plays I've seen so far this year, and 65% were less than two hours. Only one of them, Temptation, exceeded two and a half hours.

[UPDATE/CORRECTION: Matt Freeman pointed out in the comments section that his play, The Most Wonderful Love, was two and a half hours long. For some reason I didn't remember it surpassing the 140 minute mark. So make that two shows I've seen this year that exceeded two and a half hours.]

In his blog, Patrick (a.k.a. Charlie Willis) wrote:

"It occurred to me afterwards that perhaps we're doing a disservice to our actors in OOB in so frequently presenting 75-90 minute plays, though that seems to be a gift to our audiences. The muscles, skills and stamina required to keep a 2-3 hour play aloft aren't exercised very often. I believe that's one of the reasons why audiences are so rarely willing to commit to the experience — not because it's so terribly difficult to sit through a three-hour show (depending on how comfortable the seats are), but because the actors project their own exhaustion upon the audience, convincing that audience that it's just too much. After all, our culture DOES value 'the bigger the better'. You'd think they'd embrace the two-and-a-half or three-hour show as a great deal. Twice the entertainment for the money."

Now, I'm not necessarily saying plays need to be longer (seriously, I've never sat down in an Off-off-Broadway playhouse thinking before the show starts, "Please let this be longer than two hours."). As an audience member I'm often relieved to hear that a play has a short run-time. But still, I wonder how much of that is due to being both spoiled and conditioned? Do I just have a short attention span that prevents me from being able to sit comfortably through a play that lasts longer than two hours?

Well, no, that's not necessarily the case. A lot of it has to do with being burned by unpleasant theatrical experiences that have seemed to go on For. Ever. I agree with Patrick the Poopsmith (seriously, how many more nicknames are we going to give Nosedive's whipping-boy? I think we can come up with a few more.) that part of this is due to actors and audiences of Off-off shows being so conditioned to demand and expect short plays that we're often thrown when confronted with a play with a formidable running length.

It could very well be due at times to actors projecting their own exhaustion upon the audience.

I know that ultimately the run-time is irrelevant. I've seen amazing productions of Hamlet that run a little over four hours (including intermission) without once checking my watch during the show. I've seen plays that have run no longer than 70 minutes that feel like an eternity. (This is the same for most works in other media; I've read 1,100-page novels that have made me want more when I come to the end and 80-page novellas that make me wish were over by around page 20.)

So far, Nosedive has staged one play of mine, Ruins, that ran three hours long (including two intermissions) back in 2002. We received good reviews and good attendance for this show, but we also received some flack (of course) for the long run-time (something that can't and won't be changed about Ruins if it ever is to be staged again. The length is the length and I have no intention to make any substantial cuts, apart from some minor pruning here and there, which would only shorten the show by about five minutes at most). Our shows have hovered between 70 and 100 minutes ever since.

Recently, Pete expressed interest in putting on another epic-length play some time in the near future. Perhaps that's what will happen with my As-Yet-Untitled-And-Unfinished-Superhero-Play-Based-Very-Loosely-Off-Watchmen, since it's certainly shaping up to be a long play. But as always, we shall see.

Dragging it out,

James "Long-Winded" Comtois


Blogger Freeman said...

My play, of course, was two and a half hours and three acts. That pleased some, and really didn't please others, I'm sure. But you have to write the play as it is.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Really? Hmm. I don't remember it being that long. Well, there you go. I guess I've seen two shows this year longer than 140 minutes.

You're right, you do. That was definitely the case with Ruins. I absolutely couldn't cut it down in any substantial way, apart from a redundant line here, an extraneous line there (which would cut it down at most to four or five minutes).

11:18 AM  

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