The beauty of repeat viewings

By Damaris Montalvo

I’m a repeat theatre-goer. If I find a play delicious, you can pretty much expect to see me there at least one more time, as I will want to savor every line all over again. To me, it’s critical to take advantage of the opportunity of live theatre, because I will never see the same performance again. With movies, you can always buy the DVD, and the film will be the same every time you see it; if you experience it differently, it’s because you have changed, not the movie. But with live theatre, anything can change. A subtle facial expression one night might make a big difference in the way you interpret a scene. A missed cue, a light change, or the audience itself can provide a completely difference experience – and I love that unique opportunity that only theatre can afford us.

I became a member at Boston Court in 2010 after I saw Oedipus el Rey five times. I would’ve probably seen it a couple more times had I not caught it at the very tail end of the run – right before it extended for a couple more weeks. I knew then that Boston Court would expose me to the kind of theatre that I’d want to see – thought-provoking, sometimes disturbing, beautiful theatre with deeply human stories.

Next came Twentieth-Century Way, which I saw seven times.

And so has continued a tradition of repeat viewings, for Boston Court continually delivers production that I want to see over and over again. Save for one exception, over the past four seasons, I have seen every show at least twice, but mostly an average of three times per run.

One example of the power of a repeat viewing was with Creation, produced as the last show of the 2012 season. The first time I saw the play, I felt deep sympathy for Ian, an evolutionary biologist who is struck by lightning and becomes obsessed with music that only he can hear. I thought of his struggle to articulate and properly express what he was experiencing, and I felt that his wife, Sarah, was being selfish and not making an enough of an effort to understand what her husband was going through or adapt to this change.

The second time I saw the play, I felt deeply resentful towards Ian, perceiving him as selfish, ignoring his wife’s needs in favor of his own newfound obsession, hurting not only his wife but also Zach, a promising young musician in his greedy pursuit.

What’s delightful about multiple viewings is that they allowed me to explore the complex dynamic that was developing between these two individuals and the people they were impacting. Creation is a play about what we choose to believe, and the events or moments that lead us to listen to one thing and stop listening to another – and the repeat viewing helped me understand that there is no one-dimensional reading in this kind of interaction. Moreover, it made it me understand the motivations behind each character’s actions and simultaneously love and hate their actions.

Recently, the beauty of repeat viewings shone through once again during R II, Boston Court’s last play this year. With three actors playing multiple roles in a Shakespeare play, it’s natural for your attention to be divided on a first viewing. There are so many layers to appreciate in R II, that each viewing allowed me to uncover a different layer.

For instance, the first time I watched the play, my experience was all about getting acquainted with the play itself – with the plot and how the structure was different from the original, which I was familiar with, and with how the three actors were interacting. The second time, feeling familiar with the aforementioned elements, I appreciated the details, like the set design, particular actor’s gestures with each character, and the language itself.

The third time, I sat in a different spot from the first two times and got to really appreciate some of Jim Ortlieb’s facial expressions – especially in transition between characters. You’d think that in a play with only three actors it’d be easy to play attention to what each one of them is doing, but the subtleties of talented actors are endless. I realized in this third viewing that I had mostly been paying attention to John Sloan during those moments and had missed out on these great transformational moments.

During my fourth and final viewing of R II, I got to admire and appreciate Paige White’s rendition of Aumerle – a secondary character that I had kind of overlooked and underestimated during the other performances. I had admired Paige’s Bolingbroke immensely, but I hadn’t really noticed how masterful her embodiment of Aumerle is – this young noble who is essentially the only one who genuinely looks up to Richard, almost as a big brother, and whose identity will also be shattered when the dynamics change.

And at the end of the day, one of the reasons I enjoy Boston Court plays so much is that they lend themselves to repeat viewings. The staff selects plays with multiple layers, multiple meanings to uncover, multiple interpretations that yield a different experience each time. Plus, it’s nice that I get pizza and beer after the show sometimes. Or that I get a pre- or post-play talkback on acting, writing, theme or other components of the production that will help round out my understanding of the play. Or that I get complimentary wine and great conversation.

Most of all, I get to feel grateful because I feel like I’ve learned something new each time. Like a piece has been opened up to learn something knew about humanity – whether it be about our frailties, our cruelty, our compassion, our love, or our yearning for connection.

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