Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Difference Between Stopping and Ending

Michael Feingold in the Village Voice:

The difficulty sets in when writers who seem to desire to tell stories
stop short and decline to go any further, as if they've come to the edge of some steep metaphorical cliff. It embarrasses me to feel, even metaphorically, that I'm in the crowd of onlookers yelling "Jump!"


Stories that don't arrive at full dramatic resolutions have been
part of the theater for most of the past century: Pirandello used them as a way of dramatizing his ideas about the theater itself, and Tennessee Williams let a major character in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof tell the hero that his story was "fatally incomplete." But nobody could say that either writer had shirked the dramatic substance of his plays; the incompleteness embodied that substance. But merely leaving the substance unexplored embodies no principle. It's as if the
play had been written, not to achieve any sort of gratification for author or audience, but simply to have another play listed on one's résumé.


Conor McPherson, whose Port Authority has just opened at the
Atlantic Theater, is now well established as a writer of half-seen plays. In his more recent works, which mate a wonderfully grotty Dublin naturalism with chunks of old-fashioned ghost-story kitsch, the characters talk to each other, but what happens makes no particular sense. (Apparently nobody but me realized that the
patient in Shining City got rid of his ghost by giving his therapist the lamp.) In his earlier genre, to which Port Authority belongs, the characters live in separate voids, narrating their lives (to whom? for what purpose?) in the first-person past tense, with events simply running on until they run out.

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