Mr John Heilpern provides the following observations:
When it comes to theater, I’m an unapologetic elitist. Before I’m hissed in the streets, I ought to clarify that I believe theater should be completely and democratically open—but popularity isn’t everything.
The only good move that would make theater honestly accessible isn’t to lower artistic standards, but rather the ludicrously high ticket prices. Don’t mess with the art. A theater of excellence is one that takes us up along with it; a dumbed-down theater inevitably takes us down. But we don’t call that theater. We call that television.
Mr. (Peter) Brook’s plea for the uniqueness of theater has never seemed more urgent: How can we sustain a theater of consequence whose raison d’être is that it exists in opposition to the pabulum of TV when the difference between the two is becoming more and more dangerously blurred?
I disagree with Charles Isherwood’s exuberant declaration in The New York Times that Tracy Letts’ saga of dysfunctional family life, August: Osage County, is “flat-out, no asterisks and without qualifications, the most exciting new American play Broadway has seen in years.” Whether or not he’s right about the gifted Mr. Letts’ ambitious new play, look at the references he uses to authenticate its “turbo-charged” three acts and “blissful” three and a half hours:
“The play has the zip and zingy humor of classic television situation comedy and the absorbing narrative propulsion of a juicy soap opera, too. In other words, this isn’t theater that’s good-for-you theater. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote an immortal line from a beloved sitcom.) It’s theater that continually keeps you hooked with shocks, surprises and delights, although it has a moving, heart-sore core. Watching it is like sitting at home on a rainy night, greedily devouring two, three, four episodes of your favorite series in a row on DVR or DVD.”
No higher compliment from The Times, and death to some of us. Mr.
Isherwood’s most exciting American play in years must surely be a cut above reruns of Sex and the City or The Sopranos. It’s the favorable association with comforting TV sitcoms and juicy soaps that’s meant to bestow The Times’ seal of approval.
Is it any wonder our theater culture is fucked?