The new theater of classics

One of the hottest theater tickets of the 2010 season was the sold out performance of the reading of "Death of a Salesman." It was presented by the Ashland New Plays Festival in the Black Swan. It was a fundraiser for their upcoming season with the superlative and generous cast from the OSF '97 production.

What a contribution to the theater community to have access to the classics, no frills. The great classics are perpetually new, about now, and the best writing about the human condition. If "the play is the thing," we don't need Ice Follies costuming, overwhelming sets or the P.C. police. It's just between author, actor and audience via the director, that's all.

Great writers are extension cords between the Big Source and ideas. If there is no big-tent fuss, the function of timeless words, stories and characters come alive. Overdone theater is like a church staging an extravaganza of Lazarus Rising. Let the masters speak for themselves.

The Ashland New Plays Festival introduces new writing while reviving the classics. Ashland is not an entertainment spa, but a haven for what we can no longer find in a world of technical trivia, propaganda advertising, and fourth-grade-level entertainment of dirty words and splatter and batter as "with it" and way cool.

The hallowed experience of an arts community with an endless park downtown is something for the world to see. The only way to keep it "accessible" is to make the price of tickets affordable. Theater is the last place that should discriminate against the low-income because they can't afford the price of tickets for a family of four after living or traveling here.

It has been scientifically proven that children do not learn from someone on television teaching a language as they do with a live person. Young people are voracious for live theater and the world of their imagination. If food fights with audiences and vomiting in toilets builds the script, great. Otherwise, let the genius of the story teach redemption.

ANP Festival is preserving the sanctity and simplicity of what we can find nowhere else. Let the mystery of the experience be remembered. If we have to think to understand the play, all the better. Good actors are easily understood as they make the old English dissolve quickly, turning it into American or any language.

Audiences come to theater to go into a state that is bigger than life no matter how unjust and disorderly it is. We don't know what that alchemy is, we only know everyone should get to experience the magic. Don't cover the play with candy to sell tickets. Theater reflects the world; it shouldn't be "of" the world.

The wonder of "house lights down, stage lights up," and suspended disbelief, the courage of brave and talented actors who go where no mere mortal would go, is it. Thanks, Ashland New Plays Festival, for finding the much-sought new direction of theater's solid future, which began here and now.

Leah E.V. Ireland is writer who lives in Ashland and runs a car giving agency.

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