Tonight, we went to see a preview of Burning Bluebeard at Theatre Wit. It was a beautiful, moving production. It was put on two years ago at the Neo-Futurarium when I first saw it. I was happy to hear that it was being done again this year.I will confess that a friend of mine is in the show but I don’t think that biases me. It’s simply a well written, thoughtful show that has made me cry twice, which is fairly uncommon for me.
It’s a production within a production about the Iroquois Theater Fire in 1903. 600 people died, mostly women and children, making it one of the worst, if not the worst, theatre fire in US history. The fire was infamous around the world that it impacted theatre safety codes throughout the country (so they say). They had rushed the opening so safety features like fire escapes weren’t complete. So many people died from falling several stories. One account said that they found about 200 bodies in the alley behind the theater.
So the play is about the actors trying to tell their story and the story they were supposed to tell the afternoon of the fire. The story is Mr. Bluebeard, this bizarre gory story of Bluebeard killing his wives and hiding their bodies in a room. It was supposed to be about good winning over evil. The actors repeat, that was the rule. But the fire that came from the production wasn’t because of evil choices, it was human error.
I love how each character talks about their motivations. You really understand what they were trying to accomplish and what they were trying to do during the fire. The actors and stagehands had the same ambition: they wanted to show people something that will amaze them and make them happy. And how that impulse became twisted with circumstance. In the real world, the fairy godmother can’t make wrongs right.
I was reminded a lot of a talk by Bethany McLean, a journalist who was really the first to start questioning Enron and is known for book turned documentary The Smartest Guys in the Room. In her talk about the Failures of Leadership: From Smart Guys to Devils, she expounds on the notion that the mortgage crisis, the financial crisis of 2008, Enron, etc. wasn’t the result of men meeting in a smoke filled room to conspire to do evil. It was more due to incompetence that maliciousness. These leaders didn’t really understand what was going on in their own companies. Which is kinda scarier.
In Burning Bluebeard, I think that the same is true. Everyone had the best intentions in their actions or thought they knew what they were doing but the results were horrifying.
It has its moments of whimsy, like the song about theater safety. But it has its moments of intensity that can leave you shaking.
I highly recommend this show. It’s