A MAN OF WEALTH AND TASTE
“A Man of Wealth and Taste” is a short, structured, improvised play. I come from dance and now explore literal, naturalistic theater. With no interest in plot driving the time forward, we built/focused the piece through improvising on questions. Could we as viewers spend time with offensive, insulting people, in this case, men at a sporting event, and what might it take dramatically to conjure compassion instead of contempt? Would there be a way to consider them sympathetically, if not begin to identify with them, instead of dismiss them? What are the conditions at sporting events that spark the cultural permission for seemingly successful, highly educated, middle-aged men of status and power to resort to raunchy, juvenile, bullying behavior? As I have grown older and become more “responsible” in the role of a parent, I found myself starting to recognize, relate to, be curious about this behavior that at one time baffled me.
I worked with three actors then later added a dancer as an additional performer although her work was as an actor. The space was set with 20 folding chairs on three ascending risers and 15-17 performers in them. These performers are talking and behaving naturally as per the scene, set in a NHL hockey arena at a Capitals hockey game. Three handsome, boisterous men in high-end suits then barrel into the space and begin stepping on and over the chairs to reach their reserved seats. They are carrying two or three plastic cups of beer each and carry themselves with a swagger and sense of ownership that implies power, money, education and status.
The men drink lots of beer, hurl racial insults, scream obscenities and enjoy themselves immensely. The dialogue is extremely spontaneous in feel and almost always overlapping, filled with laughter and juvenile profanity. There are, however, specific moments of vulnerability for each of the three men to deepen and enhance the relationship with the viewers. The actors improvise among themselves, with the other performers in the larger group, and with the viewers. They interact by inciting group responses to the game, group chanting, offering (and procuring) high-fives, and yelling out insults. Despite racist, misogynist language, we found audience members enthusiastically raising their hands to high-five the actors, whooping and hollering in response. According to this performance run, charm and charisma are strong factors in how much we’re willing to overlook.