Cool city blues

A Dallas stage critic's troubled fling with New York theater

After all this, I was left to try to reconcile my New York theater experiences with what I'd seen in Dallas. In comparison, it doesn't seem Dallas theater lacks talented performers--we're barren of attentive, appreciative audiences. This is partly because mainstream ticketbuyers across the United States rarely consider live theater when they're budgeting their discretionary income (this is true even in New York). But in a city like Dallas, many who might fortify a theatergoing core are too busy loathing themselves and their city to meet the productions here on their own terms: They automatically assume the inferiority of theater in a city that isn't known as a "theater town." This situation doesn't encourage talented artists to continue their journeys here.

The inverse of that is what I'll call the New York hick, a noxious philistine who can't recognize the trendiest, most superficial script even when it marches up to him, shoves a groping hand into his pocket, and collects every last coin of his hard-earned money. Creativity in Dallas is killed from lack of attention; in New York, it's killed by too much. And it doesn't matter whether you're blinded by the "dark cloud" over Dallas culture or the tinsel nimbus around New York--you've still lost the ability to see what's happening in front of you. Meanwhile, there is outrageous, heartbreaking, nourishing theater in both cities that's being ignored for different but equally ridiculous reasons.

The funny thing about theater--still among the most primitive of human expressions--is that it doesn't rely on the technical resources of a nearby industry or coastal location to succeed. The only ingredients needed are talented people willing to work hard and smart and an audience willing to watch with a passionate and intelligent mind. I've seen the talent in both New York and Dallas. But their efforts are burdened by the identity crises of the audiences, who seemed to be paralyzed by dual complexes of superiority and inferiority.

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