Muses IV: Memories of a House
This site-specific show is in a lovely home, but the characters in it lack depth
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Sept. 10, 2010
Muses IV: Memories of a House
Through Sept. 12
Running time: 2 hr.
The Vestige Group had a great idea for its fourth installment of the Muses series, in which short plays are written to order for a specific Austin home. Instead of having all the participating playwrights write dramas on the same theme or idea,
Vestige asked them all to write plays using the same predetermined characters, a family of people living in a house. And what a house: The owners of a private residence in South Austin have offered up their home for the entire three-week run, and Vestige has taken full advantage of the setting in staging 10 works in and around the beautiful home.
In execution, however, the production doesn't reach its potential. Even if the company did have 10 stellar scripts to start with, they needed to have the dramaturgical wherewithal to tinker with the scripts and unify them somewhat before staging them. These plays contradict one another. Either the teenage son is gay or he isn't, for example. Using the same characters doesn't work if they're not, you know, the same characters.
One of the characters must have been described to the writers as "daughter, very religious, smart but unstable." (Just guessing.) Seeing how a playwright, any playwright, treats religion is in many ways a stark litmus test of his or her abilities, because it requires deep imagination to understand another person's spiritual beliefs and sensitivity to portray those beliefs realistically. By and large, the Muses IV writers who include this character in their plays have failed to delve any deeper than a two-dimensional portrayal of a girl locked into a narrow mindset defined by a few clichés about how Jesus saves. Where is the artistic merit in showing a character's faith in a purely irrational light, with no sense for the meaning it might hold for her?
Carry these ideas about religion over to the other major traits on the character list: addiction, therapy, youth, mental illness, and so on. Addiction is not as simple as "I want to keep drinking because I'm sad." All of these ideas have depth, and high marks to the producers for supplying a list of characters with potential, but the question at the end of the show is: Why was no effort put into revising the scripts? A few of the plays fare well, particularly those that aren't trying to pack a huge emotional punch into their allotted 10 minutes, but overall the scripts veer toward the sentimental, the maudlin.
Dramaturgy isn't just about respecting the playwright's intentions – not to the extent of taking a half-formed script as-is into production. Dramaturgy is also about putting new ideas together and changing things around. Vestige succeeded in the first category. Here's hoping that in the future it will work on the second.