Monday, May 07, 2007

Brad Pitt in Raisin in the Sun?

Neil Labute has a column in the LA Times on color blind casting.

Don't forget, these actors still have to find a theater company brave
(or crazy) enough to cast them. But if that happens — if someone does allow me to mount my all-white version of "A Raisin in the Sun" — then please let us proceed. I promise you, we'll be doing it not to be provocative but because it's a terrific American play. Don't picket outside the theater or send letters to the editor — if you have to, though, do that first rather than start up another annoying blog — or ask CBS to take away my radio show. (I actually don't have one, so relax, you can continue sleeping in in the mornings.)

But it would seem that another Chicago theatre type, Don Hall, would ask, Why the hell are people, white or black, wanting to do so many classics anyway?

Right now, in Chicago, one can see the billionth production of Stoppard's Arcadia, Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, Pinter's Betrayal, Shaw's Caeser and Cleopatra, Lerner and Lowe's Camelot, Equus, The Elephant Man, Harvey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ragtime, Richard III, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Diary of Anne Frank and two versions of The Sea Gull. The argument can be made that these pieces have endured because they themselves have something to say to audiences today - that they remain relevant over the course of time. The counter argument can likewise be made that quite a few of these have been performed somewhere in Chicago by someone in the last two years and that we will likely see another production of many of them in the next two.


Thomas Garvey said...

Actually, right now Boston seems to be suffering from the OPPOSITE syndrome - too many new mediocre new plays, too few classics. I'd say in at least half the shows I've seen recently - including "Persephone," "Miss Witherspoon," "The Wild Party," and "(sic)" - the productions were better than the plays. This gets a little wearying, frankly; one wonders why today's playwrights can't keep up. Meanwhile, nobody has seen Ibsen or Arthur Miller in these parts in ages. I'd rather see their work again than the next half-baked skit from Christopher Durang.

YS said...

Hi Thomas,

I think it is rather refreshing to have had this season of mostly new plays. (Though we would probably come to similar assessments of their quality in some cases.)

Unlike Don in Chicago, I don't want to see classics go away altogether. Although I do make no bones about wanting to see a new play rather than a mediocre to bad work from an otherwise canonized playwright, i.e. Burn This or other such plays that seem to get done again and again and again.

Don't worry though, you'll soon get your chance. Things will turn back to normal soon.

Present Laughter, Arms and the Man, Misalliance...are all coming up.

As for Arthur Miller: The Crucible is at BTW next season. Streetcar is at New Rep.

Shakespeare will always roll on.

YS said...

I know Streetcar is Williams by the way.

I was more saying that the classics will always be chugging along.

Thomas Garvey said...

I confess I never understand the prejudice against classics - i.e., against the best plays. I just don't get the attitude of "Why do an old, great play when we can develop a new, mediocre one?" It makes no sense to me.

Scott Walters said...

Here's my theory: hardly anybody actually reads plays anymore, so what gets mounted over and over are the couple dozen plays that were read in undergrad and grad school. Compare the table of contents of the play anthology for theatre history classes that was current during the director's undergrad years to what is being done on the stages, and I'll bet you'll find a disturbing parallel.

patrick said...

In answer to Thomas's post, people don't choose to do new plays because they think are mediocre. They choose them because they like them. They think the play they've chosen might turn out to be great. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't. However, the problem with staging the same old classics over and over again is that new plays and new writers don't get a chance to see the light of day. Theatre needs to see a lot more new plays on stage. Only then will playwrights get the experience they need to create masterpieces. Great art requires a lot of chances to be taken, and requires a great amount of failure before success arrives.

Thomas Garvey said...

I have to respectfully disagree with Patrick. Sure, people do hope that the new play they're producing will prove to be great - but a large part of their interest in it is often simply that it's new. And that's a prejudice, to be blunt. Imagine a company devoted to doing older works simply because they're old, and I think you'll immediately appreciate my point.

As for playwrights requiring multiple failures before they create masterpieces - current reality belies this argument. Via the "development" industry, playwrights can have multiple plays produced without improving (see Noah Haidle) - or even actually becoming real playwrights (see Theresa Rebeck). Meanwhile, established playwrights can churn out new material that grows ever sloppier (see Christopher Durang).

Meanwhile the great playwrights of our day - Caryl Churchill, say, or Howard Barker - struggle to be heard just as they always did. The problem is that the folks who want new plays also often want soft, easy plays; they don't like those tired old classics not because they're tired and old, but because they're difficult (just like Churchill and Barker).