entire contents copyright 1995 by Larry Stark
THE LOEB EX is the ultimate playspace. About eight or ten paces square, its sheer, perpendicular, concrete-gray walls rise one full story to a three-sided parapet, where a small Eizenour electronic light-board on casters overlooks the scene. Five feet above that a light-grid covers the entire space, turning it into a totally flexible big black box. Six big floor-to ceiling metal panels hang from criss-crossing tracks, and when they're not stored flat against a wall these panels can cut and mask the space to any shape, carving corridors or rooms or proscenium arches to fit any fancy. Sets of three-tiered wooden risers with folding chairs can mass an audience of about eighty or so wherever the designer or director fancies --- unless they stay stored out back, with audience cross-legged on the floor. It is, indeed, that "empty space" Peter Brooke insisted he could call "a theatre".
The fact of this flexible intimacy makes it an ideal space for acting, because it takes no strain to be heard even at a whisper, and the brim of a tear or the tremble of a cheek has impact when it's a mere few feet away. In Loeb Drama Center's Experimental Theatre, the playing-field of technique is level, and any actor of any age can express whatever talent, taste, imagination and originality may allow.
I think the first show done in The Ex --- the first one I saw there, anyway --- was Samuel Beckett's "Mime One". The solo actor was Thom Babe --- who became a director and playwright before graduating Harvard, then a New York lawyer, then a playwright again at La Mama, at least for a while. Thrown onto the shallow, wide proscenium-stage and bedevilled by whistles and by tools and objects and an unreachable water-carafe, all of which descended or disappeared from the flies, his total degradation took less than an hour, and remained resonating in the mind forever.
Opening night before going on I heard his director ask "You know what to do if they laugh at you, don't you?" He did. His trapped, bewildered animal pricked up his staring, wary eyes to peer, expectantly, sightlessly directly into the audience. It cut off the laugh like a knife.
Newcomers often have to search for The Ex, which is out around the far-side of the main-stage auditorium, as though it were an afterthought the architect stuck away in a back closet. But it's not that. It's a small theatrical miracle re-created a dozen times every year.