Getting out in front of the Spider-Man story? Not likely. One shouldn’t even bother to try. This thing has become the monster tsunami of Broadway, unfortunately, and it’s sweeping everything away that lies in its path. Today, for example, there was the news that Natalie Mendoza is leaving the show. Can’t blame her. Life insurance isn’t paid up.
Just sitting here typing this right now, I stumbled on a tweet (thanks, @erichbergen) stating that Spider-Man (the character — that is, the actor Reeve Carney) needed help to get back on stage at intermission, and was aided by folks in the front row, including one person whose forehead now bears Spidey’s foot mark.
If true (or if untrue), what more of an indication of a painful mess do we need?
True, the case was the same back on Dec. 22, when I wrote a piece that I decided to offer to the Huffington Post. There is a long history, and a rather curious one, of death, near-death and injury happening on the stage, arguably the best known being that of the playwright Moli√®re. And I thought it was worth some scribbling.
For me, the fact that the box-office for Spider-Man is booming is more than proof enough that we love to see people fall flat on their face (or on their back, as the case may be). The immense media mess (some would use the word “circus”) surrounding this show isn’t so much the manufactured product of PR people or the creative team or the producers, but us. We create these things and we sustain them. We can destroy them, too. And we all know we won’t.
Media coverage of Broadway — mainstream or lamestream — is so star-focused that it usually takes something grisly to rock the dynamic. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, in this sense, is the biggest PR orgy since Caligula tried to deify his horse. People living far from Broadway, under rocks and in caves, not to mention unknown life forms living near shimmering supernovae, all know that four Spider-Man performers have been injured during previews of the problem-prone $65 million show. The most serious injury, of course, occurred last Monday night when the rope of a stunt double, Christopher Tierney, snapped, introducing him to the law of gravity by a 30-foot fall. Understandably, actors are outraged.
What I find amusing and sad is our collective memory loss. Tony winners like Alice Ripley may rage against the Spider-Man machine (“Does someone have to die?”) and Adam Pascal may think director Julie Taymor should go to jail for “assault,” but this is commercial theater: audiences are eating it up. That Caligula line may seem hyperbolic, but centuries after the Roman Coliseum served as a theater of death, we’re as fascinated as we ever were by even the hope of watching excruciating pain.