If theater is dying, realism is killing it. Serious Theatre™ will disagree. These large repertory theaters instead blame reality TV, social media, and tweet seats for their unstable medical condition. They would rather not take responsibility for the fact that they've unsuccessfully courted new audiences by continuously producing work (that is either) from (or acted in the style of) the estates of dead playwrights who championed the high seriousness of American Realism. Yes, the dialogue and craft of Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller was radical and awesome. But they're dead. YouTube and E! Entertainment produce American Realism more authentically than the Seattle Repertory Theatre does. Whatever. Get over it.
So when I heard that Betty Wetter, a drag queen best known for eating donuts off the floor and breaking umbrellas on stage, was creating a "one-woman" show called It Gets Wetter, I was worried. Wetter seemed very serious in her advertising of the show, and serious one-person shows give me nervous sweats. They remind me of all the worst parts of
American theater realism: wickedly slow pacing, a boring commitment to truth and the middle class, and narcissism disguised as charity. So how would Wetter's one-woman show hold up? How does a venue mostly known for its creepy queer parties create sit-down, "I hope it doesn't go too late"-theater? And most importantly: Would this be anything like The Vagina Monologues?
While a copy of The Vagina Monologues did appear on stage, It Gets Wetter was refreshingly unrealistic.
SPOILER ALERT (well, no, this isn't a SPOILER ALERT because the plot of It Gets Wetter is just a misguided vehicle for emotions and spectacle) The loose narrative is this: Wetter is a cool housewife who gets dumped by her husband and is forced through a divorce. Wetter is kinda a standard housewife cliche, but a cool cliche. She's like a late-twenties indie electronic singer who got married too young and is really into crystals but not really into crystals. She has to go to court. She attempts to date again. She investigates the reality of her birth through heavy-handed symbolism. Instead of creating its own climax, the show literally borrows the climax of Roseanne. Are you lost/bored? That's because plot isn't important.
What is important in It Gets Wetter? The audience. There wouldn't be a show without them, and the house was so full of people that many, including me, had to stand. (Fancy! Like Shakespeare's Globe!) But in the parlance of dragspeak: People were living for this show, mama. They were literally screaming at Wetter when she pulled the heart out of an audience member after an existential number on life post-divorce. (Again, don't linger too long on plot. It's unimportant.) I heard the girl in front of me whisper, "Hit her in the face," before her friend chucked a crumpled one dollar bill at Wetter while she live sang. Other people joined in, and Wetter was pelted with dollar bills. But this engagement isn't a distraction, it's the point. So often people in Serious Theatre™ talk about the importance of an audience, but their shows feel like they could go on with or without butts sitting in those dark, cozy chairs. With Wetter, the audience isn't just a witness, they're the reason to continue.
Maybe I take back what I initially wrote: Theater isn't dying. Theater institutions are dying. And if that's a hyperbole, then the realistic statement is that they are, at the very least, struggling to represent the live performances that excite, innovate, and endure fistfuls of dollars chucked from the crowd. (Also, Wetter does end up eating a donut off the floor and being a fucking mess. Go see the show.)