Call it a drama for dramatic times.
A new interactive play delves deep into the turbulent 1960s, drawing a connection to the struggles of young political activists in 2018. “The White Album,” opening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater on Nov. 28, adapts journalist Joan Didion’s 1978 essay of the same name for the stage and examines how the dramatic changes of that decade resonate today, according to its director.
“I was interested to see whether the most defining issues that were questioned by the youth in the 1960s resonate with the issues of young activists today,” said Lars Jan.
Didion’s essay takes a first-person look at the movements and events that challenged American society in the final years of the decade, including the Black Panthers, student protests, and the Manson Family murders, all of which boiled over in her native California.
Actress Mia Barron will recite the essay onstage, bringing Didion’s lucid writing voice to life, according to Jan.
“Essential to the essay is that Didion herself is the central character,” Jan said. “Mia translates the electricity of Didion’s language into somebody reflecting on her own inner life and physiology, in a way that’s very human.”
While most of the audience will watch Barron and a small group of actors perform Didion’s text, an additional selection of about 20 audience members will join them onstage. Before each show, Jan and his Early Morning Opera company will recruit this “inner audience” from among local students, activists, and artists between the ages of 21 and 30.
Members of this group will watch the beginning of the play from the stage, and then shift into the background, moving into a glass structure that resembles a mid-century Californian house. Instead of hearing the rest of the play, they will don headphones and listen to recordings of seminal events from the 1960s, including concert footage and films of police crackdowns on protests.
To most of the audience, the scene onstage will look like a quiet gathering that finally breaks into a dance party that is fully 2018, according to Jan.
“They become kind of a visual score,” he said.
After the show, the two audiences will have a chance to come together for an open discussion of the themes of the play. Jan hopes these talks will help to create connections across generations.
“The average age of theatergoers is such that they will likely have lived through the 1960s, and they look at history from a very different perspective than young people of today,” he said.
Didion’s account of a confusing era speaks to people from any era, said Jan.
“Joan Didion has this gorgeous brain and writes this piece very incisively about the confusion and violence around her and the profound desire to create meaning around this. And I think that that’s something everybody can relate to,” he said.
Anyone interested in joining the “inner audience” can write to madel
“The White Album” at BAM Harvey Theater [651 Fulton St. at Ashland Place, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Nov. 28–Dec. 1 at 7:30 pm. $25–$70.