Friday, August 8, 2014

'Long Day's Journey Into Text': What happens to the stage when the small screen takes over interpersonal contact?

Recently, some young playwrights have made creative use of shifts in popular means of communication from the face-to-face kind toward online social media: Texting and FB posts, Twitter and Yelp,  comment threads and digital trails are making conversation through spoken word and visual gesture almost quaint.

 More and more, our relationships are conducted textually, sometimes while in physical proximity. In preparation for Monday's "Diane Rehm Show," I've applied these pertinent developments to the ultimate three-dimensional, voice-and-action, person-to-person format: the theater.

Will the direct communication, sometimes lengthy, so characteristic of older plays, especially since the triumph of realism, simply atrophy? Will it all be boiled down into tapped-out acronyms and abbreviations and emoticons? How can the wordy emotional tussles that fill the collected works of Eugene O'Neill, for instance, even be understood by 21st-century audiences?

I see the need for adaptations, involving actors (to keep them from idleness and despair) tapping out provocations and responses to each other as the texts pop onto a nearby screen facing the audience in real time. Perhaps actors will be trimmed out of such productions altogether (shudder!) in order to uphold the purity of the screen. Mercifully, given the coded format, performances will be shorter. Social media doesn't have much truck with the past, so O'Neill's artfully interwoven scenarios, so laden with memory, may be SOL. We're in for a bumpy ride, folks. Maybe we'll be seeing this sort of thing at the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival in a few years.

How will the  Tyrone family communicate once texting triumphs absolutely?
Here's what could happen to "Long Day's Journey Into Night," O'Neill's highly regarded drama, a searing exploration of his own family woes. For those unfamiliar with the original, this sort of synopsis might have to be supplied to audiences. James Tyrone ("Tyrone" in the script) is a hard-drinking, middle-aged Irish-American actor, stingy and status-conscious, haunted by the limitations he long ago placed on his career by settling for one well-paid popular role. His wife, Mary, hides a drug habit incurred after the difficult birth of her younger son and the death in infancy of another son. The couple's two adult sons are Jamie, a lazy actor ambivalent about following his father's profession and given to strong drink, and Edmund, the younger brother, consumptive and also teetering on the edge of alcoholism. The scene is the family's summer home on Long Island. Sound design: Foghorns near the end. Burst of stage fog, too.


Mary: More $ on another property?  : - p

Tyrone: Good investment, IMHO.

Mary: FC.  Worried abt Jamie's summer : - ~ ).

Jamie: *koff* *koff*

Tyrone: UR upset.

Mary: No!  > :- [!  Hush! They're coming F2F.

Edmund: Mama looks bad 2day.

Jamie: MTE.  RBTL. She's a hophead.

Edmund: TMI!

Jamie: J/K.

Tyrone: Turn lites off. Not made of $!

Jamie: OMG. There U go again! EOL?

Tyrone: Always on the Old Man, RU?

Jamie: SITD! Haha! (VBG)

Tyrone:  Had GR8 hopes 4U once.  : - <

Jamie: OIC. Wanted me 2 follow Ur lede IRL.  Well, STBY, no? 1 career, 1 role!

Edmund:  STFU! *koff* *koff*

Tyrone: I grew up poor, TYVM.  Worked hard 4 $!  SH! And U think we're just NP, after all we've done, all we've dreamed 4U.

Jamie: ROTFL. WEG.

Edmund: U ROTF % - }

Jamie: We're both SOL, bro.

Mary: ILY all. XOXO, BRB.

Jamie: TTYL. SWAK!

Tyrone: Wretched POV!  InGR8!

Jamie: ROTFLMAO!

Tyrone: OMG!  : @ In the gutter, more like.

Edmund: % - (  No trust from her. She C's it in our I's.

Tyrone: MTE.  UB fine, Edmund. State sanitorium 4U!

Jamie:  2 cheap 4 something better, RU?

Tyrone:  &U!  : @  GAL! U have talent.

Jamie: THX.  >: - ^

Edmund: (CYA, everybody!)  *koff* *koff*

Tyrone: % - }

Jamie: % - } % - } :`- (

Edmund: FWIW, it's F2F  — she's down here again.  :- (0) WTF! She's carrying her wedding gown.


Tyrone: OMG % - } !  Cruel F8!

Mary: 2 my piano, FWIW. My hands R not GR8.  Nuns who taught me, WYWH. We're all SITD now. YOLO, dear 1s. DTRT B4 it's 2 L8.   YOLO.


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