Offending the Audience

When artists perceive the moral order of the world as upside down and inside out, they are necessarily compelled to find new forms of expression to transform their audience's perceptions.

The citizen who thinks he sees that the commonwealth's political clothes are worn out, and yet holds his peace and does not agitate for a new suit, is disloyal, he is a traitor. That he may be the only one who thinks he sees this decay, does not excuse him: it is his duty to agitate anyway, and it is the duty of others to vote him down if they do not see the matter as he does. --Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, 1889, Ch. 13.

The cast
The cast
Twain wrote this at a time when all artforms were in flux, as the pace of industrialization rapidly accellerated. Two world wars, a worldwide depression, and countless regional conflics later, artists were forced to go to ever greater lengths to break through the industrial-strength defenses that their audiences built to inure themselves from a world gone mad. By the time Peter Handke wrote Offending the Audience in 1966, the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley was over a year and a half old and the Cultural Revolution was shaking China. Soon, protests against U.S. imperialism in Vietnam would split America and Europe.

In a 1970 interview, Handke said of this play:

The idea was to have the spectators in the orchestra thrown back upon themselves. What mattered to me was making them feel like going to the theatre more, making them see all plays more consciously and with a different consciousness. My theatrical plan is to have the audience always look upon my play as a means of testing other plays.

Germinal Stage Denver
Germinal Stage Denver
Handke succeeds in this by stripping away all pretense of the stage being separate from everyday life, mostly through power of the text and the scansion of the actors, with some character adornments here and there, in the form of dialect and/or movement. This being the final production of Germinal Stage Denver's 39th season, and the last at its location of 25 years at 2450 West 44th Avenue, director Ed Baierlein has invited all the actors he's worked with to perform and celebrate the metamorphoses of the company.

While the program lists over 40 actors, there's no telling how many others will show up, even if only to be part of the audience for this milestone production. Germinal Stage Denver first performed Offending the Audience three years into it's 39-year run, so in a sense this production serves as a bookend to a fabulous run that, hopefully, will be continued at a yet to be named venue.

The most poignant moments of the evening came near the end, when Baierlein voiced, in a couple of monologues, the author's summary, much like Prospero at the conclusion of The Tempest, with the famous island, in this case, the shores of Baierlein's germinal stage:

You ladies and gents you,
you celebrities of public and cultural life you,
you who are present you,
you brothers and sisters you,
you comrades you,
you worthy listeners you,
you fellow humans you.
You were welcome here. We thank you.
Good night.

Offending the Audience runs through August 25th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows


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