Theater's purpose & power

Dear Editor:During the intermission of "No, No, Nanette's" Sunday closing performance at the Downey Civic Light Opera, Marsha Moode did her usual charming turn in announcing the Be A Star raffle, whose winner plays a bit role in the DCLO's next production (former Downey Mayor Diane Boggs was Sunday's recipient). There was a second raffle this time, for a gift basket in the lobby. The winner this time stood up to say that she was "in escrow." The normally unflappable Moode, who has a comebacker for every occasion, was not only stopped this time, but took a half step back. Escrow, of course, is linked to real estate, whose overall condition represents an even greater tale of American woe than news of another soldier's death or brain-damaged veteran coming home from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Oh well, who's keeping their house these days," Moode said. "It's terrible." Chances are that most in the DCLO's audience have been able to hold on to their homes-Downey remains "the step-up city" for the surrounding communities. But a murmur went through the crowd just the same. It's no secret that we're in bad times. When rumors of an impending financial collapse began circulating in 2008, pundits were saying that the economy could survive anything so long as there was consumer confidence. That confidence is gone. This is a unique unemployment cycle inasmuch as lost jobs are not coming back-they've been either outsourced or computerized. The economy is stuck because the federal bailout didn't translate into liquidity-the big Wall Street banks have held on to the money. Our political apparatus is stuck because too many politicians have, in the name of gaining or keeping power, lost sight of the greater good-other robust countries like Brazil are bypassing the U.S. because, in the words of Brazilian industrial tycoon Eike Batista, "American is in political gridlock." American culture is collapsing too. Pop music is less musical and more punishing and incoherent, movies resemble more and more a studio factory product of dumb action blockbusters and triple sequels, and television becomes more and more stupefying as it shows us how low people are willing to go to gain "reality" ratings. Socially, computer network "friending" replaces actual socializing as it too confuses virtual reality with the real thing. Except for the relatively few sequestered multibillionaires who control the bulk of the economy, people in general are anxious, confused, and faced with the specter of out-of-control breakdown on nearly every front. Tempers, as a result, grow short. What's this got to do with the DCLO's "No, No, Nanette," a dated, silly, inconsequential '20s musical that has only two decent songs? Because it had bright music, comedy and dancing, and attractive period costumes draped over attractive young bodies gathered onstage for a lively grand finale. At the end, when the ensemble reached out to sing "I Want To Be Happy," most of the audience kept their seats rather than bolt for the parking lot. They wanted to hear it--even if it was just to share a song with a cheery ensemble that seemed far away from serious problems. That's the power of the theater. It's all of us alone in the dark looking around to see that we're not alone, and that we can share feelings instead of emoticons. Whatever we're suffering, we're in it together. We can even dare to be happy for a few moments. It seems there's very little of that these days. -- Lawrence Christon, Downey

********** Published: October 21, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 27