A subject as grand and complex as the Group Theatre — which spawned many famous productions, plays, and artistic careers for stage and screen, influencing theater and filmmaking, theater training, and American literature at large — would present any playwright with a supreme challenge. This first run-through was proof Fischer and his colleagues had captured a coherent narrative with several key, interlocking strands in two well-shaped acts together totaling not much more than two hours. Although Fischer would eventually cut another 25 pages from the script before rehearsals were over, the play and the staging — which uses an appealing mix of media, original music, and ensemble movement to create a delicate dialogue between one company and its historical subject — was coming across persuasively.
In five years of researching the history of the Group, Fischer says he grew to appreciate a connection to these forebears he had not recognized at all when he, Newman, and Greenberg founded their company in Los Angeles (TJT relocated to the Bay Area in 1982). Fischer relates to the commitment, social and artistic, that drew the members of the Group together.
"Cheryl [Crawford] has this line, 'We never used to fight like this when we were starving.' Of course it's not the whole story but, in other words, they came together because they needed each other to simply do the work they were called to do. They were a remarkable group, whatever their individual failings," he continues. "What they had in common was they didn't want to do commercial mainstream theater as it existed then. Clurman says of Chekhov's characters: 'I like them, they're full of life, they're not depressed, but they have no outlets in their society, so nothing means anything.' Clurman gave Friday night talks for a year so people could just come and listen to this guy, this crazy rant, but that was the impulse.
I can't remember who was just saying this about the current situation — I don't know if it was about Wall Street, but this whole notion of talking crazy until enough people are listening — these world-changing movements start with one person and then grow to a few people in a small room. That's how it starts."
IN THE MAZE OF OUR OWN LIVES
Through Nov. 13
Previews Wed/19, 8 p.m.; opens Thurs/20, 8 p.m.; runs Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (also Oct. 30, Nov. 6, and 13, 7 p.m.), $15-$35
The Jewish Theatre
470 Florida, SF