Gone
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Gone

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Time is a double edged sword in the theater.

There's the thrilling immediacy of a live performance: the energy, community, and presence that comes from sharing the same space, the same time with the artists.

Then there's that darn ephemerality: the way theater vanishes like a puff of smoke.  It's here ... then it's gone.

It's even worse with the master works, the classics of the theater.  I'm not talking about the texts. They hold up fine.  We can dust off Sophocles or Shakespeare and re-read them anytime.  I'm talking about the sweat and blood - the actual productions, the performances.

Imagine if all you could experience of Cubism or Abstract Expressionism was a tiny reproduction in a book.  Sadly, that's what Time too often does to theater.  

Yes, there are the revivals and remounts but all too often they have the life force of a bad Natural History diorama having lost the alchemical inspiration of the original.  "Einstein on the Beach" - the 1976 masterwork by Robert Wilson and Phillip Glass with choreography by Lucinda Childs - obliterates the distance of time.  

Performed this last weekend at the LA Opera as part of a final world tour, the almost 40 year old opera felt vital.  Its scale and scope were simultaneously overwhelming and deeply comforting - a bit like an epic dream from which you wake strangely refreshed.  

Much is made of the piece's length - a truly epic four and a half hours without intermission.  I can't imagine it a moment shorter.  There is a magic to great works of this length where time begins to bend, to circle back: where your memory of the beginning mixes with your experience of the end.  Maybe it's a symptom of our ever connected and distracted lives that it takes us that long to become truly present with a work of art.

Even as "Einstein on the Beach" transcended time, I couldn't help but feel time's weight: to wonder how radical this work must have felt in 1976.  You sense embedded in the work the genetic code for countless theater pieces you've seen since - only smaller, less ambitious.  For all it's glory, it didn't transform the world of Opera and spawn a generation of radical masterpieces.

And now of course - it's gone.  Your only chance to catch it is with a flight to Paris in January (which to me is a good excuse to make the trip).

What we have to celebrate in Los Angeles is that we were one of its stops.  Credit goes to LA Opera for the courage to present it.  And also to an exciting trend that's popping up in LA Theater: partnership.  UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance was a partner on the production providing modest funding but also a series of ancillary events - a panel discussion and tonight's performance by Robert Wilson of John Cage's "Lecture On Nothing."

Imagine if all of LA Theater began collaborating and supporting an idea larger than their own seasons.  That would amaze even Einstein!

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.


Banner credit: Leslie Lesley-Spinks

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