Don't stop! 

A love note for playing it straight through

Dear No-Intermission Play, Have I told you lately that I love you?

Maybe I've been missing you a little these days, since there's been a recent spate of two-intermission plays like Geek Love and Camino Real. Not that I'm bad-mouthing three-act shows -- they encompass big ideas and large casts.

But they're just not as accommodating as you. You show me a good time, and then get me home early enough to unwind before bedtime and maybe even have a beer. I never take you for granted.

I confess that I've been enchanted by you ever since I heard about plays performed "straight through." Sure, I might have been intrigued by your reputation for being "fast," especially compared to your more old-fashioned sisters, two-act play and three-act play.

In a 1983 stage direction for Fool For Love, playwright Sam Shepard described you this way: "This play is to be performed relentlessly without a break." Shepard makes you sound like something to be endured more than enjoyed, but I know what he's getting at. Your older sisters have to take a break, so they spend the evening cranking up dramatic tension, easing it down, then cranking it back up again. But you're not bound by tradition. Whether comedic or dramatic, you build the tension without letting up, generating momentum your sisters seldom match.

Theater purists may look down their noses at you, calling you just a long one-act play, saying you're fit for audiences with short attention spans. Let's not be afraid to admit it -- you're the ideal show for the easily distracted. But that's because you're so well suited to fast-paced shows with concentrated action, not sprawling stories. You can move at the speed of modern life and advance themes of sensory overload. You're good with kids.

You have your softer side, too -- the delicate, two-person love story Talley's Folly wouldn't convey the same intimacy if it took a cigarette break. With plays like Wit or Underneath the Lintel or several Athol Fugard classics, to name a few, you prove you're as rich and substantial as any three-act work from the canon.

You can take my affection for granted, though, so can I be candid? Frankly, sometimes you take advantage. Like that night at 7 Stages' production of The Chairs last fall, when you kept the audience seated for well over an hour and a half. Any time you go that much over 90 minutes, you're just making it hard on us. Give us a break. Don't pretend to be what you're not.

I'm afraid we'll have to continue our open relationship. There's a lot out there that I like, so I'm going to have to keep seeing other kinds of plays. But they'll never get me excited quite the way you do.

-- Your greatest admirer.

Drop/Add: Georgia State University may discontinue its theater program. The university's administration, faced with cuts in state funding, has named theater as one of several programs under review for possible elimination. The review process is expected to take about two months.

Part of the school's Communications Department since 1981, Georgia State's theater program currently has three tenured faculty members and 10 to 15 graduates per year, making it a relatively small program. The school will continue to offer theater classes even if it eliminates the program, a move that would not go into effect until after the 2004-05 school year.

Georgia State's program doesn't influence the Atlanta theater scene as deeply as Emory University's, but it still contributes to the city's theatrical life. Last year, a group of Georgia State students, most of them theater majors, formed a local company called, ironically, No More Productions. In general, a city's academic community supports and energizes its greater artistic community, and the loss of Georgia State's theater program would make Atlanta's creative atmosphere a little thinner.

Curtain: Sondra A. Nelson, who was executive artistic director of Neighborhood Playhouse for 15 years, died Jan. 23 of respiratory failure. Neighborhood Playhouse is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary season, and Nelson's directorship proved crucial to building a loyal audience for the Decatur-based theater.

In recent years Nelson suffered from bone cancer, and in 2001 a group called "Friends of Sondra Nelson" raised more than $12,000 for her medical expenses. Nelson exemplified the kind of unsung professionals whose commitment to their art, despite the long hours and low pay, sustain live theater.

curt.holman@creativeloafing.com

Off-Script is a biweekly column on the Atlanta theater scene.

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