Friday, March 21, 2008

Ty Burr thinks Ruhl Has Much to Teach the Movies

Ty Burr, our local film critic at the Globe sees hope for theatre and film in The Clean House:

I'm probably not the best person to trust on the subject of theater: I
watch movies for a living, and the Globe already has a critic who's more than up to the task of parsing, analyzing, condemning, appreciating. Plus, I have to admit I'm fairly sour on the Boston area theater scene - 20 years in New York followed by two subscription seasons at the Huntington that just about put me into a coma will do that.


What Ruhl is about in "The Clean House" is surprising us - crossing the audience's wires and leading us from what we know to a consideration of everything we don't. The plot is nominally a marital comedy, but it keeps getting sidetracked into a philosophy of laughter (really; the cleaning lady wants to discover the perfect joke), and Carroll's dreamy clean freak goes from the play's goat to its Zen master. The actors ride these rollercoaster twists with the grace that comes from giving oneself up to fate (or to the whims of a
playwright), and when in one scene the doctor finds herself laughing and sobbing simultaneously, "Clean House" reaches the limits of language itself.

The movies simply don't play that. Perhaps because of their illusion of greater realism, films tend to conservatism when it comes to tonal monkeying about, and they're always less about language than image - about what is shown, rather than what is said. What begins as a heist movie ends as a heist movie; a drama is a drama is a drama. To imagine the cinematic equivalent of Ruhl's gift would be to confront a film that allows itself to grow organically, so that what begins as an ordinary shrub keeps flowering and sending off different shoots until it looks like a Dr. Seuss tree, with a swing on it for the audience to sit in.

1 comment:

Thomas Garvey said...

Jeez, I have to write some sort of post about this one, even though I've lambasted Burr before. His superficial point is true - plays do tend to "morph" before our eyes much more often than movies do - but it's telling that he should be so impressed by a play that strikes more intelligent observers as synthetic - just about as synthetic, come to think of it, as most movies! (Hmmmm.) And then there's his hilariously patronizing tone - 2 years at the Huntington "just about put him in a coma"? Really, who is he kidding? (He's already in a kind of sugar coma!) Streamers, Present Laughter, The Cherry Orchard, Love's Labour's Lost - is he really trying to say these were somehow less stimulating than No Country for Old Men, The Departed, and Crash? If so, I just feel sorry for him. I opened the movie page a minute a go and could find only one film that I'd call intellectually challenging - Michael Haneke's Funny Games, which is so harrowing even I don't really want to sit through it again! Meanwhile, on local stages he could catch, or could have recently caught, Shining City, Some Men, Angels in America, Three Tall Women, or Pieter-Dirk Uys - next to these he's really trying to put There Will Be Blood? Oh, come off it!