Monday, November 21, 2011

Where is the Art in Merely Shocking the Audience?

Last Sunday, after mindlessly surfing cable channels, I settled on an episode of Lisa Ling’s Our America about normal everyday people engaging in amateur porn. Lisa Ling relayed statistics such as every minute as many as 2 million Americas watch internet porn. A couple of mornings later, I opened up my email account and there was a TONY newsletter of 2011 Sex Poll Results with the headline 50% of those polled are cheaters. By the way, 58% have been cheated on and 57% watch porn either daily or weekly.

Now, all this should not be shocking. Sex is all around us – TV, films, advertisements, Eighth Avenue. The other day as I strolled across West 45th Street, I marveled as a large group of young girls waited outside the Al Hirschfeld Theatre hoping to spot Daniel Radcliffe; right next to the theater is a private gentleman’s club.

One of the many things that I love about the theater is that there isn’t a lot of sex on the stage and definitely not the gratuitous type that many Hollywood films are famous for. So, I was little shocked when I saw The New Group’s production of Thomas Bradshaw’s Burning in previews. Now, one may argue that any one can tell from the play’s poster (a bare female derriere) that the play is risqué, and after all, Thomas Bradshaw has a reputation for being a provocateur.  However, I could not help but wonder if the following was necessary to graphically depict for some three hours on the New York City stage:

Sex between gay men
Sex between gay couple and underage boy
Unprotected sex between HIV infected man and underage boy
Sex between black man and white wife
Sex between black man and black prostitute
Sexual acts between Neo Nazi brother and sister

So, what did the critics have to say now that the show has opened?

NYT: (Ben Brantley)
… [for] some audience members, disgust and boredom have definitely prevailed… features many moments that border on hard-core pornography. (Only a lack of strategic close-ups separates this play from XXX-rated films.)
NYP: (Elisabeth Vincentelli)
Bradshaw churns up big ideas, but everything remains skin-deep.
NYDN: (Joe Dziemianowicz)
Sometimes all you can do is laugh at the preposterous goings-on.
NJN: (Michael Sommers)
'Burning' is a fetid slag heap of amoral characters whose lives are drearily rendered through indifferently-written dialogue, far-fetched plotting and graphic bouts of sex.
It is one thing to provoke an audience but an entirely other thing to simply shock for the sake of shocking. Where is the art in that, Mr. Bradshaw, Mr. Ellliott?

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