Apr 19, 2010

Smokin' at the Supremes

My employer comes out forcefully in favor of the right to smoke onstage. I have to confess as a former smoker that I'm ambivalent about this. Though I'm not one of those theatergoers who goes into a dramatic coughing fit the second a stage cigarette is lit, the smell of smoke, even in a larger theater, has a particular headache-y effect on me--the kind of ache that a former addict like me could only soothe by having one myself. The further away in time I get from my last smoke (not as long ago as I would have liked), the more I have what I assume is the typical non-smoker's reasonable aversion to the stink. But there's still that twinge.

But I think some of my discomfort relates to something Playgoer pointed out months ago: that anything that breaks the artifice of the theater, that seems too identifiably "real" (nudity, gunfire, smoking, danger, live animals), can risk taking us out of the moment. The only solution, of course, is to acknowledge that the stage is artificial, and also to put the burden on the director and actors to create a world in which no behavior seems "too real" or takes us out of the world of the play. I'd put the violent, disturbing Bug in that category. And obviously, in a Noel Coward play, to use an obvious but unavoidable example, it takes more of a suspension of disbelief to accept that his characters have all gone on the nicotine wagon than it does to accept the reverse.

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