I have been thinking about the following excerpt from John Lahr’s review of THE MAN WHO — Peter Brook’s stage adaptation of the Oliver Sacks book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” — for quite some time now:
What we call “I” — the self that we spend a lifetime making and remembering — is really a story that we tell ourselves and that is reflected back to us by the world. When both versions of this narrative are more or less in synch, you have sanity; when they aren’t, you have madness.
If this is true — and although I instinctively believe it to be so, I’m relatively certain there are others who will disagree — then I think it makes (accidentally) a strong argument for linearity in storytelling, against which so many contemporary theater practitioners seem to be dead set.
No matter who we are, no matter what culture we come from, we cannot help but live our lives linearly. This is (obviously) because we move forward in time. We cannot change this. We may remember the past, of course, but in doing so, we are still remembering “in” the moment; we don’t actually return to an earlier time. The same thing is true when we daydream or in any other way anticipate or pre-figure the future. We cannot in any way escape the simple fact that we are slaves to time.
Some would argue that this is precisely what theater is about: by enacting rituals, we get outside of time, connecting with something “eternal.” I would counter thusly: that’s what *some* theater is about, and it’s also what religion is about, and I don’t particularly care for either. I understand the comforts they provide, but they’ve always seemed to me to be somewhat thin and disingenuous, and I just can’t connect with them very easily. Your mileage may vary.
I think there’s another kind of theater that’s about reflecting, in front of us, the linear stories we create inside of ourselves. A theater that’s about taking our personal narratives and weaving them into a larger cultural narrative that binds us together, that reveals us to one another, and that lets us reflect on what’s really going on for us in our hearts and minds. A theater of honesty, I might call it. And I think that theater is often, but perhaps not always, linear.
And despite what some other theater practitioners have argued, I think that’s absolutely fine. Call me un-hip, if you must; I’ll happily accept your jabs and japes… in the linear manner in which they must, by the laws of physics, be delivered.