Thursday, May 12, 2005

Anglophiles, John Heilpern's got your number!

I think all drama critics and drama practitioners go through periodic Anglophilia bouts throughout their lives. Depression, exasperation, anger, and jealously are all symptoms of the disease.Heilpren, a former Englishman, has always been an antidote to the particular mental maladies one suffers when fighting a case of American theatrical inferiority.

He has an excellent essay about it in his book, How Good is David Mamet Anyway?, and his most recent column in the Observer explains that, somehow, when British theatre artists miss the mark, the American critics don't seem to relate it to their Britishness.

Heilpern points out that three British Directors are helming three of the American Revivals right now on Broadway. Streetcar, the Glass Menagerie and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf are all being helmed by British directors. He also goes on to point out how the productions are by no means succesful.

Heilpern on this phenomenon:

If the situation were reversed—if today three Americans were directing British classics in the West End—I’ve little doubt there would be an uproar. After all, they’ve been saying "Yanks go home" since World War II. But they take pride in their theater culture. They have confidence in it. They connect to the past—to the power of language and the great classical tradition. In a sense, they’ve been weaned on the past.

The continuing tragedy of American theater is that it doesn’t have confidence in its own culture. It doesn’t reveal security in its own glorious past. If it did, there would be no need to ask British directors to stage American classics. There would be no need for Anglophilia.

It is an interesting read and you should check it out. I am a huge fan of those three plays, (I think I have seen 9 different productions of Glass Menagerie, including the interesting one at the Lyric this past season.) so I have been following the critical response in New York very closely.

The New York Review of Books has a lengthy article on the particular reasons for the Menagerie failure. If you don't read it soon it will be archived. He is going to have a follow up in the next issue which will discuss Streetcar Named Desire.

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