Crashing The Gate

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Yesterday’s second Conversations With program was billed as featuring cast members from the Gate Theatre’s production of The Constant Wife. It didn’t, but nobody was complaining, at least not within earshot. What audiences got instead was a very smart conversation with Wife director Alan Stanford (also an actor with the company) and the Gate’s artistic director, Michael Colgan. The effect of listening to Martha Teichner interview the two most articulate men in the room, both of whom happened to have impeccable Irish accents, was to make the rest of us feel like dunderheaded idiots. Or at least the Lowbrow felt this way, he can’t speak for anyone else.

The bright conversation ranged across the themes, design, and costumes of The Constant Wife, the class conflict out of which the play originally arose, the state of contemporary Irish theatre, and the relevance of theatre at all in a world in thrall to television, the internet, and YouTube. A few keepers:

Michael Colgan: “At its heart, The Constant Wife is a play about class. That’s the flip side of the play, the fact that Constance has the chance to pursue that economic freedom only because she has the money to have such exquisite taste in clothes and her home. They’re all dripping with money and wealth. If she’d been running a household with five children, it wouldn’t have been possible. Furthermore, nobody would have gone to see that play. In the 1920s, class was there to be either written about or in the background.”

Alan Stanford: “There’s an Anglican hymn I often quote when talking to people about how ingrained that class system was in that society:

“The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them, high or lowly,

And ordered their estate.”

Michael Colgan: “You didn’t see ugly poor people in popular entertainment. That’s why plays about the working class were for so long considered avant-garde – because nobody wants to see themselves.”

Martha Teichner: “It’s an interesting comment on the times in Europe that Constant Wife and Mahagonny were written within one year of each other. They couldn’t be more different.”

Alan Stanford: [On Beauty Queen of Leenane author Martin McDonough] “He’s English, he’s not an Irish writer. He lived with his grandmother in Ireland once, but that doesn’t make him an Irish writer. I’ll never produce any of his plays. Those plays aren’t written with love, are they? He’s a talented writer, but he’s a Cockney. Irish playwrights do it for the love of the story. And for the love of talk – for the sake of it. David Mamet, the American playwright, has that love. He’s as close to an Irish writer as anyone I know. Mamet’s much closer to being an Irish playwright than McDonough.”

Alan Stanford: “Irish kids today don’t want to be Samuel Beckett or James Joyce. They want to be Colin Farrell.”

Michael Colgan:  The audience’s imagination is changing at an extraordinary rate. And we have to be able to satisfy that changing audience. ”

Michael Colgan: “My mother can sit through King Lear, my daughter can’t. But my mother can’t understand what’s happening in L.A. Confidential, because it’s happening too fast, and my daughter wants to know why her grandmother keeps asking me what’s happening.”

Alan Stanford: “That’s why theatre is shortening. Plays are getting shorter. We’re being conditioned by television.”

Alan Stanford: “We’re also losing actors. They’re doing telly and film, and when they get on a stage they don’t have the training or the voice.”

Michael Colgan: The best compliment I ever received was one time when the Irish poet Seamus Heany came to the Gate to see a show, and afterward he walked out and shook my hand and said, ‘It’s so good not to have to make allowances in the theatre.’”

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