Willem Dafoe crosses the line, in a good way

I saw the new Willem Dafoe play, IDIOT SAVANT,  a couple nights ago and I’m still thinking about it. It’s experimental theater by Richard Foreman, although at this stage, I’m not sure what’s experimental about it. Everyone seemed to know exactly what to do and how to do it.

Willem Dafoe’s performance was excellent, as expected, but there was something about it that really intrigued me. The play pretty much does away with any fourth wall. There’s a sort of gate, I guess, which serves as a physical barrier upstage, but the actors, and Dafoe was expert at this, never really pretended to be anywhere else. They were on a stage, in front of an audience.

What was amazing to me was how Dafoe included the audience in the show, without directly engaging them. There was this amazing feeling that we were all in this together, we were all here to enjoy something and it had as much to do with us watching him, as it did him performing. In a sense, it was like watching the host of a variety show, but only in that inclusive way a host might talk to the audience.

Like I said, the actors never talked directly to the audience. It was much more of an unwritten contract between him and the audience that they shared the experience.

So, naturally, I’ve been wondering how that feeling could be recreated in a film. I am not talking about a character, or an actor, talking to the camera. How do you insinuate the audience to be part of the experience when you are watching a film? In a sense, when an audience is engaged in a film, it makes the film more enjoyable for everyone, so just by being good, or not boring, there’s some of that. But, in a theater, the actors aren’t set on celluloid and can react back to that invisible conversation that’s been started. Maybe it can’t be done, but it would be interesting to figure that out and try it.

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