Play/Musical Logic

My husband and I are rather avid theater-goers. We have a season subscription at the local major theater complex for the big musicals that come through, and we supplement that by going to various local theaters’ (and occasionally high schools’) productions when they’re putting on something that looks interesting.

We’re going to three shows this weekend. Last night we saw George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House (very good, and very funny in parts), tomorrow is Fahrenheit 451 (how could we resist, right?), and Sunday is I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which is part of the subscription. (We get a couple of random non-musicals in with our musicals. Not sure why.)

After the play last night, my husband and I were discussing things, and while it’s not particularly true of Heartbreak House, which is one of those plays where people mostly sit around and talk and are amazingly witty (like Lion in Winter, say) and nothing much of note happens, I’ve noticed that a lot of plays – especially musicals – have a very strange sense of logic that prevails.

I suspect it’s because they have such a short time to tell their story, and so they have to make weird leaps in order to get through the plot in the time allotted (usually denoted by how long an audience is willing to sit still).

In some ways, it’s a form of Fridge Logic (warning: TVTropes link). Fridge Logic is where, while something is happening, it seems perfectly reasonable, but when you think about it later, you realize that it doesn’t actually make any sense.

Some examples: Maria forgiving Tony immediately for killing her brother in West Side Story, the entirety of the plot of Phantom of the Opera, the ending of every farce every written. (And oh, how I love farces.)

People fall in love at the drop of the hat, with nothing in common and without even knowing each other. Villains, previously unstoppable, are brought down by something relatively simple and sometimes contrived. A single song can change a character’s entire way of thinking.

Yes, on some level I think it is necessary. You can’t put the necessary background in that you could in a novel or a TV series. And you can be distracted a lot by clever staging, a fun dance number, or beautiful costumes.

Still, next time you go to see something in the theater – look at the plot afterwards. I bet you’d find at least one place where, when you think about it, something just doesn’t flow right.

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