To the editors:
Why is Albert Williams (June 23 issue) so stumped by the Goodman Theatre’s choice of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? I agree that, ideally, a large, not-for-profit artistic concern like the Goodman should be bringing us aesthetically challenging material, but I am not surprised at their choices anymore.
As the flagship of Chicago’s not-for-profit theatres, the Goodman is fairly emblematic of the state of the art in this town. While the Goodman is endowed heavily, it seems difficult for its artistic director to rise above the demands of the enormous subscriber base and take a lot of risks at the end of a season–it’s handy to have a blockbuster running when your telemarketers are busy hustling next year’s subscribers.
Compounding the situation, is the fact that experimentation is not easily tolerated in this town. Testament to that reality is the rather permanent looking sign that hangs in front of the once experimental Organic Theater, advertising the revival of Bleacher Bums.
We keep seeing what is now beginning to resemble theatrical dogma, trotted out year after year in the way of easy comedies and revivals. Why the lack of diversity? Perhaps it is because we live in an age of fearful conservatism, when it’s more comforting to revive than create anew. Or maybe it is simply that theatre has become like the department store, where the customer is always right.
The most disturbing aspect of the Goodman’s revival of this play, is the return to a prefeminist sensibility that would put actresses in skimpy costumes and use their photographs to advertise the show. The least of my concerns is whether the production can be justified as a professional stretch for Frank Galati, as Mr. Williams wondered. I think the answer to that should be fairly obvious, and by bringing it up, Mr. Williams lets the Goodman off the hook. Not exactly the right spirit for a serious critic.
Finally, I think if we expect higher standards of artistic integrity, then we have to say so, in no uncertain terms. It is important there be guidance, other than box office receipts, to those who have the significant job of expressing our culture, dreams and visions, lest they continue to fumble in the greasy till.