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CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS : Calendar's critics share their love of the arts: the gift each would give a friend today : STAGE

December 25, 1987|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

As a reviewer I had to see "The Mahabharata" all in one stretch at the Los Angeles Festival. Later, I went back to see it over three separate evenings, letting the story sink in during the day.

During the last of these evenings, I became aware of an odd feeling. Contentment. This was about as good as theater got, and it was good enough for me.

That's the experience I'd like to give to Calendar readers for Christmas. But all I can put under the tree is a pair of theater tickets, without even guaranteeing them that it will be a good show.

Another gift would make a braver package. A coffee-table history of the Broadway musical, or an original cast album, or a video of the Cronyns doing "Foxfire."

But those things aren't theater. They're only about theater.

Theater isn't a thing. It's something you do. You, the ticket holder. It's about going downtown to sit in an auditorium with a lot of people you don't know, to watch a set of actors pretending to be somebody else.

When the actors or the play aren't very good, the people in the auditorium cross their legs, drop their programs and wish they were at the movies. Movies at least move. Bad plays just sit there.

But with good plays, something happens. The house gets quiet, and the audience starts to breathe in time with the actors. When the spell is at its height, it's almost as if the actors and the audience were telling the tale to each other. Hence, the lovely Russian custom of having the actors applaud at the curtain call.

The movies don't have curtain calls. That's because there's nobody behind the curtain. The lights go up; a few people clap; the audience goes out as they came in--strangers.

In theater the illusion wasn't that deep to start with. People don't lose themselves in a play the way they do in a movie. Yet having conjured something up together, they feel more linked going out.

If the performance came together. Since there are human beings on the other side of that curtain, it often won't. It will hardly ever be "The Mahabharata." And then some night, it will be.

Let me know how you liked the show.

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