Saturday, April 26, 2008

Play Developement - Six Views, Same Shape

The Rhombus is having a series of staged readings, along with workshops this weekend.

More info here.

Patrick Gabridge, of Writing Life X3 has an open rehearsal of his play, Constant State of Panic on Saturday at 2PM.

At 11AM on Saturday, April 26th there will be a roundtable discussion on Models of New Play Development with the following:

Joe Antoun (artistic director, CentaStage), Ilana Brownstein (literary manager, Huntington Theatre Company), Jacqui Parker (artistic director, African American Theatre Festival), and Kate Snodgrass (artistic director, Boston Playwrights' Theatre). Gary Garrison, the Dramatists Guild's executive director for creative affairs

All events are FREE, and open to the public!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Save Provincetown Playhouse

Leonard Jacobs is asking for help. NYU is planning to destroy the famed Provincetown Playhouse in the Village.

Here is more.

He has information about who you should contact.

Geoff Edgers Catches the Gawker

Gawker author Richard Lawson took a swipe at the ART on his blog.

Geoff Edgers of the Boston Globe was interested in Gawker's assessments, but finds out that Mr. Lawson, really didn't have that much of a leg to stand on:

I asked Lawson, via e-mail, how he developed his anti-crush on the ART. Though several exchanges, it became clear he actually didn't know all that much about the company. For example, he saw a play at the ART when he was 14 and "that made me want to do theatre, which I ended up majoring in at Boston College."

A few more e-mails, a bit more detail.

Lawson's parents, he said, do have season tickets to the ART. But
he had only seen one show there in the last two years, "bobrauschenbergamerica," and that one wasn't the ART's. (Anne Bogart's SITI Company presented the play.)

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Last Chances:

Whistler in the Dark's A Hard Heart closes this weekend at the Arsenal Center of the Arts. Bill Marx and Thomas Garvey reviewed the production.

An Ocean of Air, Rough and Tumble's return to the boards plays through this weekend at the Factory Theatre in the South End.

Edward Albee's Three Tall Women got very good notices and your last to chance to see it is this weekend at the Lyric Stage.


Opening:

The New Rep opens their production of Dessa Rose at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.

Whizzin, Ryan Landry's newest creation, which takes off on the Wizard of OZ!


Ongoing:

The wacky family inhabiting the House of Yes will be at the Appollinaire through next weekend.

The Cry of the Reed, Sinan Unuel's blending of middle eastern mysticism and war on terror suspense thriller continues at the Wimberley Theatre.

Take a trip to Zurich with such fascinating characters as James Joyce and Lenin in the Publick Theatres's production of Tom Stoppard's Travesties at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Zeitgeist Stage is celebrating this long election season with the political comedy Spin.

Itamar Moses's play The Four of Us just gathered quite a bit of attention in an off-broadway run in New York City, and we can see it at Merrimack Repertory Theatre through the next few weeks!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Blogger Monitoring Content?

I went to click on a couple of blogger sites over the last few months and have been met with a message that the site may contain objectionable content.

I then have to click to consent to proceed.

These are theatre blogs that I read all the time. And though sometimes the bloggers curse, (mostly for effect,) and they may link to some risque material, it it seems strange that Blogger is now going to start doing this policing for us.

Anybody else experience this?

UPDATE: Apparently this is a feature that a individual blogger turns on and off, it is not something Blogger is doing.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Where Will The Hall Of Fame Be?

Fellow Blogger Matt Freeman receives this critical kudo in the New York Times:

Matthew Freeman’s “When Is a Clock” may suffer the same fate as countless other pretty good plays, namely, to receive a few small productions and then vanish. But about a third of the way into it there’s a monologue that deserves to be enshrined in some kind of hall of fame: it’s savvy and preposterous and utterly original. At a recent preview performance it drew a burst of applause.


Any ideas as to where this prospective hall of fame would be located?

Matt, will we now have to refer to you as "Hall-of-Famer" Matt Freeman?

Eliot Norton Awards Announced

I am a little late with this:

The Elliot Norton Awards have been announced for this year. The venue is The Sanders Theater at Harvard.

Here is a link to the complete nominees.

I had some questions about the IRNE nomination categories, and, well, even more about the Elliot Norton's. But it seems as they just appear to mix an match across categories, probably to make sure shows they think are deserving at least get a nomination.

If you are interested in Awards controversy though, nothing can beat the Drama Desk kerfuffle, about which Leonard Jacobs has been posting at The Clyde Fitch report.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A.R.T> Theatre Wins Phoenix Poll

The Phoenix Best of Boston Poll is out.

The readers have chosen American Repertory Theatre as the Best Theatre Company.

Rachel Corrie and Context

For those interested in the issue of political plays and the idea of theatre companies presenting them in a contextualized setting, check out Thom Garvey's post today.

Garvey interviews Meron Langsner, playwright in residence and coordinator of talkbacks and panel discussions around the New Repertory's presentation of Rachel Corrie and Pieces.

Here is Langsner's response to the question of how the authors of Rachel Corrie seem to eschew certain episodes in the protaganists life:


This question is perhaps the most difficult. I can't know or fully understand the motivations of the plays' editors. I agree that the edits appear politically motivated, and I disagree with the position that those edits appear to espouse. But if the dramaturgical task they set themselves was to create a sympathetic Rachel, they succeeded. I would in fact argue that they were not trying to create a play about a political agitator. We never experience the character of Rachel as aggressive, because the structure of the play would not support it.


There's much more.

Yes We Can!


This past week I heard actress Elisa Macdonald, (The Women, Valhalla,) call into the Jay Severin show on 96.9 FM. She had a conversation with the host, (a former political consultant,) about the new Zeitgeist show she is in that opening tonight at the Black Box at the BCA.

Spin by Robert William Sherwood is reportedly a play about dirty campaign tactics and how hard it is to take the high road.

Apparently, one inspiration for the play was the popular anecdote about Lyndon Baines Johnson, told below by Hunter S. Thompson in a rolling Stone article:


Back in 1948, during his first race for the U.S. Senate, Lyndon Johnson was running about ten points behind, with only nine days to go. He was sunk in despair. He was desperate. And it was just before noon on a Monday, they say, when he called his equally depressed campaign manager and instructed him to call a press conference for just before lunch on a slow news day and accuse his high-riding opponent, a pig farmer, of having routine carnal knowledge of his
barnyard sows, despite the pleas of his wife and children.


His campaign manager was shocked. "We can't say that, Lyndon," he supposedly said. "You know it's not true."

"Of course it's not true!" Johnson barked at him. "But let's make the
bastard deny it!"


Below is the trailer video for Zeitgeist's show.


Prospero's Cell - A Hard Heart and Kingdoms of Air

One of Hitler's most coveted paintings he looted was Vermeer's The Astronomer. (At right.)

It is almost obvious what drew the horrible dictator to Vermeer's study of this young scientist searching, (possibly for spirituality?), through his art.

The solitude of study, the practice of art with such concentration...at expense of the rest of the world?


It is one of the struggles at the heart of The Tempest for Prospero. Actors Shakespeare in Boston just closed their unique and funny production which eschewed making central the colonialism themes that many productions play up. (Although this could also be further evidence of the theory, raised by Robert Brustein in the New Republic, that more and more Shakespeare in America seems to be under the influence of Harold Bloom.)

While the magic theater staging at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center intrigued, I think I agree with Thomas Garvey at Hubreview when he says that it never quite cohered. After all, Prospero, while quite aware, in the end, of the vaporous consistency of his conjured visions, is doing real magic that has powers beyond that of say Edward Norton in last year's film The Illusionist.

Remember, Prospero claims to have raised the dead!

In the ASP production, we see all the wires and the traps in any of the visions presented on the Victorian stage , and it makes for an enjoyable treat, along with beautifully setting a nice atmosphere for comedy. However, this is a play in which Shakespeare at least appears to have been concerned with stage technology for the purpose of awe. (Bardolators feel free to contradict me.)

The stage directions indicate things dissapearing and appearing by means of "stage devices." True, these would most likely appear very ridiculous to us, but the best magic being done today still has the ability to drop our jaws.

Prospero's dedication is to his art is total, and he takes delight in hearing of even Ariel's successes with natural manipulations. His frustration at imprecise execution is palpable, even on the printed page.

Another sort of Prospero is on display at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Whistler in the Dark's production of Howard Barker's A Hard Heart, which is a type of fable or allegory about a the siege of a capital city in the imaginary nation of Praxis.


The Queen, trapped with her subjects in the walls of the capital city by an army of barbarians, enlists the talents of the Genius Riddler, a woman with a brilliant mind for military tactics.
The Riddler, a cold and calculating mind, is empowered to achieve the impossible: prevail against the massacre of the city. The Queen gives Riddler anything she requires, (the sacrifices grow larger and larger as the play continues,) and Barker brings us to the inevitable questions. What is the worth of cultural symbols? What is the point at which we sacrifice too much to stay alive? Where does genius cross into madness?

One of the allowances given the Riddler is space for her to be alone. (Something both Prospero and Caliban value equally.) She prizes this above all. Her house is protected from any noise or any intrusions, and she lives there with her infantilized adult son. Part of her deal with the Queen is that he will be protected from conscription. (Right, Meg Taintor as the Riddler in Whistler's production.)

As Riddler plans against the sieging armies, her genius and her intellect grow more at odds with what we naturally associate with humanity. Working in her semi -solitude, the monstrousness of her theories have no chance to gain traction. She admits, at one point, that she is almost in a zone of ectasy at being able to practice her genius so unfettered and watch her schemes work perfectly.

Prospero, (Albert Epstein, left,) in Shakespeare's Tempest has a moment that fills him with dread and anger. While engaged in watching a pageant that he has completely conjured through the almost total mastery of his art, he forgets, for a moment, the plot against his life. He stops the pageant, and is able to thwart the attack of the clowns. However, there is a turn there that fleshes out through the rest of the play.



Barker's Riddler undergoes a similar infatuation with her arts, only there are more tragic consequences.



Gonzalo, stranded on the Prospero's Island near the beginning of the Tempest, muses the perfect kingdom:



All things in common nature should produce
Without sweat or endeavour: treason, felony,
Sword, pike, knife, gun, or need of any engine,
Would I not have; but nature should bring forth,
Of its own kind, all foison, all abundance,
To feed my innocent people.
(...)
I would with such perfection govern, sir,
To excel the golden age.


Antonio and Sebastian interrupt to point out the, well, pointlessness of Gonzalo's Utopia. The irony being that they soon try to plot all sorts of palace intrigue and assasinations while they are, for all intents and purposes, forever stranded on a desert island. The kingdom in which they will reign, is, as well, made of air.


In just the first scene of Shakespeare's complicated comedy, these themes are wonderfully dramatized . It is sad that in most productions of the Tempest, this most important opening dialogue is lost in the understandable desire to portray a tempest-tossed vessel.


Amidst the howl of winds and sounds of thunder and rain Shakespeare lays out his themes ingeniously. Gonzalo and the king's court, seeking a status update, approach the Boatswain who is combatting the surly ocean:






In this, Shakespeare presents the entire thesis of the comedy to come.


Barker's Riddler has similar moments with the Queen of Praxis along with the Queen's military advisor. They seek to remind the genius of the importance of the structure of society - the hierarchy, the temple. Like the Boatswain, like Prospero, she reminds them of the ultimate endgame.



They are two different plays, but seeing them so close together on the same weekend I was struck by some of the commonalities.



The Tempest, unfortunately has now closed, (Actors Shakespeare's Project's next production is King John, if you wish to see it, get your tickets early.) Whistler's production of Howard Barker's A Hard Heart is still playing for a couple of weekends.



(Actors Shakespeare Photos by T. Charles Erickson.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Now That's What You Call Developing a Show...

Austin's Rude Mechanicals have developed a show about the legendary Method acting teacher Stella Burden. (A sort of weird doppelganger to the much more well-known Stella Adler.)

How to research this interesting figure from theatre history:

The story goes that Stella Burden hailed from Texas, and when she
decided to get the hell out of Texas, she put a map on the side of her daddy's barn and fired a gun at it, letting the bullet hole determine where she'd go. The Rudes decided to re-create this incident, with the idea of determining where they should go to do further research on Stella's life and work. With a map of the world tacked to some hay bales, each of the four local copads took a turn putting on a blindfold, grabbing a .22 pistol, and taking a shot.


Madge Darlington hit Papua New Guinea.

Shawn Sides also put a bullet in the South Pacific, in the Kiribati
Islands.


Kirk Lynn shot Iceland. At least that was the landmass nearest the
bullet hole.


Lana Lesley shot Baghdad. "She literally shot the 'dad' out of
Baghdad," says Darlington. "But we had a rule that we not going to any contemporary war zones, adds Lynn, so she was allowed a do-over.


That is a funny anecdote, but the real refreshing part of the article comes here:

One account of Stella Burden's later years has her spending 13 Months in rehearsal on a A Streetcar Named Desire. By the time the Rudes open their workshop version of The Method Gun in December of 2007 they've been developing the play for at least that long, and there are still four minths until the play's premiere at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Thought the workshop gets a bead on many of the ideas about Stella and acting and truth that the
Rudes have been investigating for so long, they feel it hasn't hit the bull's eye. In feedback sessions after the performances, questions were raised about the about the portrayal of Burden and her students. Audiences wondered why people would study with this woman? Were the Rudes making fun of her? Were they making fun of actors, of what it means to pursue a craft?


The intent of the project had not been to mock actors or the pursuit of the craft. That would be the Rudes mocking themselves, mocking the work they've doen and the collective to which they've devoted all their energies for a dozen years. They have a healthy sense of humour about themselves, but wouldn't ridicule that. So they went back into the rehearsal room and reworked concepts, bringing more of themselves to the piece, blurring that line between the actors who worked with Stella Burden and the Rude Mechs, finding a space wher you're pretty certain of the line between characters and actors, but
20% of you may not be sure.



This is instructive for theatre artists. Rather than only making, cosmetic changes, the group went nose to the grindstone to do some serious work under the hood. This is not really "development hell," and it is not a case of focus group overreaction. This is a group of artists, taking the feedback seriously, looking at it and realizing when there are legitimate problems that have an impact on the overall work and the communication of their vision. The mere production of the work was not the goal. The goal was to present the best work they possibly could.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

For an Audience of (N)one

This from Seattle:

On the last Monday of every month, in the narrow, reddish,
antique-looking theater of the Rendezvous, a performance happens that you aren't supposed to watch. On those Mondays, host Korby Sears, wearing a navy blue suit with a shimmery white scarf, invites that month's performer into an enormous box on the small stage, leaves the theater, and hopes nobody shows up.


Strikethrough reverse-advertises itself each month with posters and
print ads listing the date and location, who will perform, and a notice in bold: "NO ONE ADMITTED. No public. No press. No family. No friends."


But last Monday at the Rendezvous, I followed Sears up a ladder to the light booth and asked if my friend and I could go inside the theater.

(...)

My friend and I were the only people there. The theater was dark, with one red light shining directly above the enormous box. Three electronic tones—one short like a piano note, the other two droning, like sitars—played over and over and over again.

(...)

Life's too short for this kind of nonsense, I thought and then stayed
for the whole thing. Watching the box, with the electronic tones playing, in a dark theater, was oddly relaxing. "It's sad," someone whispered, "but this is better than most theater I've seen lately." There's something admirably—and grotesquely—decadent about a performance that doesn't want your attention, love, or money.

Reason on a Banana Peel

There has been a lot of talk recently about the whimsy playwriting style that seems to be appearing with increasing frequency. Like anything else, it can be troublesome to pursue the grouping of very different artists under a such a thin umbrella.

But I also agree with Garrett Eisler of Playgoer, who said, a while back, that there is definitely a something going on that looks like a trend.

In the New Criterion this month there is an article about the New Critics and their attempts to deal with the increasingly difficult imagery constructs of poetry in the Modern era.

Superstitions were common among the modernists (in painting as well as in poetry). A profound mysticism and spiritual longing animated much of the early twentieth-century avant-garde: think of Yeats’s private mythology in A Vision, Eliot’s Anglicanism, Tate’s Catholicism. Such systems were mined for their mystery and potent symbolism. The New Critics were careful, however, to draw a line safely on this side of unreason.

Contemporary poets have pushed this irrationalist-obscuratist
tendency in modernism to extremes. The result is a kind of secular mysticism that poaches on the religious impulse. At its best, it works a travesty on the mysteries comprised by deism; at its worst, it is an ironized shadow-play, in which the poet winks to his knowing audience of experimentalists and agnostics to acknowledge that the outmoded traditions are over once and for all. In their place, they substitute the vague charge that results when meaning is drained
from language, offering this cloud of unknowing as a kind of sham religious experience.


The recipe for poetry of this kind is easy to follow. As the critic
David Orr wrote recently in The New York Times Book Review, “the trendiest contemporary style” relies “heavily on disconnected phrases, abrupt syntactical shifts, attention-begging titles, … quirky diction, … flickering italics, oddball openings, … and a tone ranging from daffy to plangent—basically, two scoops of John Ashbery and a sprinkling of Gertrude Stein.” For “daffy” read playfully opaque, the irrationality that results when reason slips on a banana peel—a briefly amusing, but ultimately cheap gag.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Boston Theatre - IRNE Awards

The IRNE awards are handed out every year by the Independent Reviewers of New England.

The celebration was last night at the BCA Cyclorama.

Stagesource has the complete list of winners

Small Company

Large Company

Some highlights:

Best New Play Large Company: Brendan by Ronan Noone

Best New Play Small Company: Surviving the Nian by Melissa Li and Abe Rybeck


The New Rep's Streetcar and the Lyric's Man of LaMancha were big winners also!

Congrats to all.

Scanning over the nominees and the winners, I think it may be time for the IRNE's to think about designating a mid-sized division. Or a fringe division.

As the Lyric, New Rep and Theatre Offensive become more and more developed every year, it starts to seem more and more strange that smaller companies like West End and/or Whistler in the Dark or Way or Zeitgeist are competing with them in the same categories.

Of course, I understand that there will always be upsets, and the IRNE judges are not at all opposed to awarding a performance at the Piano Factory over one at the Arsenal Center Mainstage. And, I guess the idea is to avoid marginalizing smaller theatre. Let them compete, right?!

However, I also completely understand why New Rep and the Lyric shouldn't be made to compete with Broadway in Boston or the massive resources of the Huntington and the ART.

Friday, April 11, 2008

How Do You Get a Book on College Required Reading Lists?

It appears that you just need to make a large donation.

This from Bloomberg:

The charitable arm of BB&T Corp., a banking company, pledged $1 million to the University of North Carolina Charlotte in 2005 and obtained an agreement that Rand's novel ``Atlas Shrugged'' would become required reading for students. Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, say they also took grants and agreed to teach Rand.

Of course, the article couldn't resist dialing up Harold Bloom:


Scholars scoff at the Rand bounty, saying her ideas are too shallow to build courses around her.

``Rand could not write her way out of a paper bag,'' said Harold Bloom, a professor of the humanities and English at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Bloom, 77, is the author of ``The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages'' (Harcourt, 1994), an examination of the most important works in Western literature. Rand isn't on the list.

Movies and First Impressions

I took part again this year in the 48 Hour Film Project with the great Team Playomatic.

Our genre was Detective/Cop and we made a funny noir spoof, complete with voice over lines like: "I'd been played like a used accordian with no keys."

Watching the films at the screening, I tried to keep in mind some things from Clive James' review of American Movie Critics (A Library of America Anthology.)



In our appreciation of the arts, does a theory give us more to think about, or less? To me, the answer looks like less, but it could be that I just don't like it when a critic's hulking voice gets in the way of the projector beam and tries to convince me that what I am looking at makes its real sense only as part of a bigger pattern of thought, that pattern being available from the critic's mind at the price of decoding his prose.

For as long as the sonar-riddled soundtrack of The Hunt for Red
October has me mouthing the word ''ping'' while I keep reaching for the popcorn, I don't want to hear that what I'm seeing is an example of anything, or a step to anywhere, or a characteristic statement by anyone. What I'm seeing is a whole thing on its own. The real question is why none of it saps my willingness to be involved, not even Sean Connery's shtrangely shibilant Shcottish ackshent as the commander of a Shoviet shubmarine, not even that spliced-in footage of the same old Grumman F9F Panther that has been crashing into the aircraft carrier's deck since the Korean War.


On the other hand, no prodigies of acting by Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut, climaxed by his partial success in acting himself tall, convinced me for a minute that Stanley Kubrick, when he made his bravely investigative capital work about the human sexual imagination, had the slightest clue what he was doing. In my nonhumble ticket purchaser's opinion, the great Stanley K., as Terry Southern called him, was, when he made Eyes Wide Shut, finally and irretrievably out to lunch. Does this discrepancy of reaction on my part mean that the frivolous movie was serious, and the serious movie frivolous? Only, you might say, if first impressions are everything.

But in the movies they are. Or, to put it less drastically, in the movies there are no later impressions without a first impression, because you will have stopped watching.


Clive James claims that if you do a close reading of the anthology, the idea of the auteur theory is gradually and damningly revealed as "bogus." The auteur theory, James seems to be saying, cannot stand up the empirical evidence that "compromises" in filmmaking often resulted in better films by the great artists. "That, however, was a tale too complicated to tell for those commentators who wanted to get into business as deep thinkers. The likelihood that to think deep meant to think less didn't strike any of them until their critical mass movement had worn itself out."

For some critics, James points out, ranging far and wide in long essays often resulted in criticism that was farther away from the actual film, and, possibly, an elevation of films that were farther away from life:



There have been plenty of editors who didn't get it. The legendary William Shawn of The New Yorker never grasped that he was giving Pauline Kael too much room for her own good.

Although Kael knew comparatively little about how movies got made,
she was unbeatable at taking off from what she had seen. But beyond that, she would take off from what she had written, and there was a new theory every two weeks. A lot of her theories had to do with loves and hates. She thought Robert Altman was a genius. He can certainly make a movie, but if it hasn't got a script, then he makes Prêt-Ã-Porter. That's one of the most salutary lessons of this book: what makes the movie isn't just who directed it, or who's in it, it's how it relates to the real world.

That principle really starts to matter when it comes to movies that profess to understand history, and thus to affect the future. Several quite good critics in various parts of the world knew there was something seriously wrong with Steven Spielberg's Munich, but they didn't know how to take it down. If they could have put the lessons of
this book together, they would have found out how. Munich might have survived being directed by someone who knows about nothing except movies. But it was also written by people who don’t know half enough about politics. That was why the crucial meeting of Golda Meir's cabinet went for nothing. The movie could have got by with its John Woo-style gunfight face-offs, but without an articulate laying out of the arguments it was a waste of effort.

Similarly, if you know too much about the movies but not enough about the world, you won't be able to see that Downfall is dangerously sentimental. Realistic in every observable detail, it is

nevertheless a fantasy to the roots, because the pretty girl who plays the secretary looks shocked when Hitler inveighs against the Jews. It comes as a surprise to her.

Well, it couldn't have; but to know why that is so, you have to have read a few books. No matter how many movies you have seen, they won't give you the truth of the matter, because it can't be shown as action.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

No Lady Godiva's In Harvard Square

Via Adam at Universal Hub, we have a story of the Massachusetts State Supreme Court hearing the case of Ria Ora who was arrested for dancing nude in Harvard Square in a political protest:

Ria Ora was arrested on June 25 (the anti-Christmas?), 2005 on charges of "open and gross lewdness."

A lower court had ruled the arrest unconstitutional. In its decision, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed that people do have a right to take all their clothes down, but only if their displays are not "imposed upon an unsuspecting or unwilling audience" (so strip clubs are OK).

In its arguments before the court, the state argued that employees of the kiosk in Harvard Square expressed "shock and alarm" when they called police to report the woman. And when justices asked how Ora's anti-Christmas protest was different from Lady Godiva's political ride, the assistant attorney general arguing the case said the difference was that everybody in the town knew Lady Godiva would be taking her ride and everybody averted their eyes except for that one Peeping Tom.



Mmmm. I can think of some ads on the sides of T Buses that are imposed on unsuspecting and unwilling audiences all the time. Come to think of it, I also can think of terrible architecture, and godawful street musicians that have been imposed on unsuspecting and unwilling audiences.

Some bad theatre that people actually pay for could fall under that category as well. I mean just because I purchased a ticket for it, doesn't mean that I am suspecting it or willing to see it.

Jeez, what's the address of that strip club?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Boston Theatre - What's Going On

Lots actually:

Rough and Tumble returns to Boston Theatre scene with new production called An Ocean of Air : "This is the story of airship captain Hugo Eckener's 1929 attempt to fly a zeppelin -- full of passengers, airmail, and a gift for the emperor of Japan -- around the world."


If you have never seen a Rough and Tumble show, go down to the Piano Factory and check them out, they have a great aesthetic and big heart to their work. And they offer a guarantee!

Whistler in the Dark opens their latest production from the oeuvre of English playwright Howard Barker. A Hard Heart bows at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.

Sinan Unuel's play The Cry of the Reed opens this weekend at the Wimberly Theatre.

Actors Shakespeare Project continues its magic castle Tempest with Alvin Epstein at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center.

Edward Albee's excorcism of his feelings about his adoptive mother continues at the Lyric Stage.

Elections and Erections brings Pieter-Dirk Uys' ruminations on South African politics to the stage at Zero Arrow Street.

At Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea you can watch the demented antics of the sister Jackie O in the play House of Yes. (I have to admit, the postcard is mesmerizing. Mrs. Mirror and I have it in the house and guests have found themselves drawn to it as well.)


The Publick does their winter indoor show at the BCA. Last year was Design for Living. This year is Tom Stoppard's Travesties.

For something offbeat check out username:FAUST at the New Harvard College Theatre: The synopsis goes:username: "FAUST tells the story of an isolated woman's attempt to gain popularity by remaking herself as an Internet celebrity. When a demonic tech support team jeopardizes her password-protected existence, she must overcome digital distortions to regain control of her life." And it promises, "This modern adaptation of the Faust legend will thrill everyone from opera fans to YouTube junkies. "

A little something for everybody.

No Words for Departure

Washington Ensemble Theatre in Seattle is one of those young companies that really started heating up the theatre scene. Then, they were so darned good that some actors in the company started to work more at the large and midsized houses. But they still are staying together. But now, as Brandon Kiley reports, things are starting to change:

Kaminski is omnitalented: an adroit performer, director, and writer, not to mention co-artistic director, literary manager, and a bunch of other stuff for WET. She's tired. She's tired of being an administrator and, if I read her correctly, she's having a crisis of confidence about theater in general. She will stay in Seattle, continue to write and act, and begin work on "some really bad amateur YouTube filmmaking."

Kaminski told the company she was leaving during a group breakfast at the Hurricane, between orders of home fries. "Everyone went quiet," she says. "Then someone said 'okay' and changed the subject. We've always been so social, we don't really have a language for people leaving."

Critical Quip of the Day

Christopher Frizelle in The Seattle Stranger:

There is nothing depraved about this production of Cabaret, to its detriment. The tables are red, the chairs are red, the banisters are red, the pants are red, the jackets are red, the ties are red, the suspenders are red, the feathers on women's hats are red, their dresses are red (with red sequins), their gloves are red, the stripe on someone's purple fedora is red, and the emcee's pants, jacket, vest, and top hat are red. We are supposed to be in the dark heart of a distorting time, but the whole thing looks like a commercial for strawberries.

What Can Ail A Critic

Critic and Playgoer Larry Stark has faced some physical setbacks in the past few years, but he recentley found that a serious cold had rendered him hard of hearing through a serious fluid build-up. He saw an ear doctor, who was able to help him help him out, but the experience reminds him and us that you don't just see plays, you hear them:


But I will admit that when he said he could give me my hearing back I burst rather embarrassingly into tears, admitting that I had not, till then, let myself know how incredibly sincerely I missed hearing.

"I will hear that play," insists Theseus, and I can once again agree with him. There are actors who can make two or three decks of eager auditors stop breathing to catch their whispers; for me that stopped when I heard my head-cold draw, as it were, across first one ear, then the other, a muffling curtain that made such subtleties impossible. Still, hearing plays is What I Do, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Beckett and Keaton: Who's Padding Who?

John Lahr on Chaplin in Brecht and Buster in Beckett:

The low comics of the first half of the century were the inspiration
for the next theatre generation’s high art. Antonin Artaud took the Marx Brothers’ antics in “Animal Crackers” as a model for his “Theatre of Cruelty,” and Samuel Beckett deconstructed the capering of Buster Keaton, who starred in his movie “Film.” When Keaton suggested adding some funny business, the film’s director, Alan Schneider, told Keaton, “We don’t normally pad Beckett’s material.” The joke was on him. Beckett’s material WAS Keaton.

Terry Teachout Muses on the Pulitzer Announcements

Nor are the Pulitzers nearly as important, culturally speaking, as they used to be, though they continue to ensure that their winners will be mentioned at least once in every major newspaper in America, which beats hell out of a sharp stick in the eye. Still, I doubt that this year's winners will get much more traction in the media after the ink has dried on their citations, since American newspapers are increasingly turning their backs on high-culture coverage of all kinds. I wonder, for instance, what percentage of the papers that will be announcing the victory of John Matteson's Eden's Outcasts: The
Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father in tomorrow morning's editions bothered to run a review of the book when it was published.

Have You Seen These Puppets?

Local artist Ian Thal is asking for help identifying two puppets he has acquired:

You can help him out here.





He is trying to figure out what they represent and their cultural origins.














He has some leads, but they remain elusive.

Sad News A Designer Passes




(Boston Ballet. Reyeris Reyes, Lorna Feijóo, Gabor Kapin by Gene Schiavone)

Pulitzer Prize

Remember last year's Pulitzer debate?

This year has no such controversy and so the winner is...

Tracey Letts' August Osage County

Runner ups were Christopher Shinn's Dying City, (which was produced at the Lyric Stage this past year.)

And David Henry Hwang's Yellow Face.

I keep feeling like I should make the trip to New York to see Osage County, I seem to be the only one who hasn't. Every time I run into somebody, playwright friends, or actors, they ask me if I have gone to see it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Anon Comments

The recent dust-up between Bill Marx and Thomas Garvey has brought forth more anonymous commenters than I have had in a while.

I thought I would state the policy of this blog on anonymous comments:

I appreciate them and I will post them.


If you want to get a little edgier and thornier, that's fine too, but be on topic. At a certain threshold, I will make a judgement call. What is the threshold? It is pretty wide, but at a certain point if you are going to be walking the line between the issue and a personal shot you probably shouldn't be doing that from blogger anonymity.


If you want to make general personal comments or get a little nasty about other critics or bloggers, completely off topic, you can do that all you want on their sites. Thom Garvey, Bill Marx and Nick at RatSass all have comment features active at their blogs.


Of course, you can always start your own blog: It's free, easy, and you have a potential audience of billions! (Whereas, at my site, you are limited to maybe 80 people a day.)

Mike Daisy to Backstage

Mike Daisy notices that a post on Backstage has a few quibbles with his essay and his show about How Theatre Failed America.

The Backstage post points out that: "...nor is there conclusive proof that young companies aren't being formed every day, drawing in young audiences and young (or younger) donors."

Daisey responds:
...of course new companies are being formed! They form all the time! What I'm interested in is where the MONEY and INFLUENCE is poured, and where the support goes...the ability of young companies in garages and makeshift spaces to find audiences is a credit to the sharp and clever theatermakers of today, and owes nothing to the current system...and those audience members are not transferring
to regional theaters, because they have their own spaces to support in their own ways doing work that tends to be quite different in cost and content than the regionals, so I'm not certain why this indicates anything that will actually help working artists in America, which was the thrust of my article and monologue.


There's more.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

More on Breaking Ground

Well, it appears that the Huntington really has banned critics from the Breaking Ground Series at the Huntington.

Thom Garvey, in a comment to me on his blog, said that he had received what appeared to be a mass e-mail. He then clarified with the Huntington and it was confirmed.

Bill Marx, in the comments section to my last post says that he confirmed it with the Huntington as well. Marx is suggesting some type of civil disobedience would be appropriate:

But who cares? The Huntington can only reques a critic not come -- the event is free and any critic, blogger, whoever can attend. Mr. Garvey simply has show up, sit, and write about what he sees. I could do the same -- it does not frighten me to dismay a theater.

This is a non-issue -- it would only have significance if a critic is
intimidated by the request, or his or her editor tells the critic not to review the show or not take in a reading.


Apparently, Mr. Garvey is afraid to go to Breaking Ground because the Huntington has not invited him.


In a comment to that post I noted that while I understand his argument, Marx appears to be sidestepping the question of whether or not he also received the same e-mail rebuff as Garvey.

As for Marx's suggestions of crashing the gate, Garvey sees this as very uncivil disobedience:

To ask that no one review a script in development is perfectly
understandable; to throw a veil over the very process of development itself is something else. And to have the supposed critical scourge of Boston seemingly pleased as punch with the effort is something else again, isn't it. (It almost makes you wonder - is Marx invited, while other critics aren't?)


As for the recommendation that I simply show up at the theatre anyway: really, Bill, only you could be such a jerk as to barge into a theatre where you weren't wanted (and even if I did so, I doubt the playwright in question would be much pleased). No wonder you call yourself persona non grata, and have obviously researched the legal questions involved!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Albee's Personal Project

Bay Windows critic Brian Jewell on Three Tall Women:

Albee has described the play as "an exorcism." I think this is may be
the key not only to understanding the play, but its towering reputation. Theater as therapy usually serves the author better than the audience and though Albee is one of the few playwrights talented enough to make such an exercise work, there’s still something unsatisfying about Three Tall Women, as if it’s too personal. (Lyric Stage Company has helpfully included an essay about Albee and
his family history in the program.) But coming from a playwright known for being caustic and opaque, a play that’s humane by his standards and elegant by any standard, is almost a relief. And with the added value of seeming to offer insight into Albee’s entire oeuvre, Three Tall Women is perhaps easy to over praise.


(...)

Perhaps it’s just the sheer weight of the play’s cold negativity that
left me feeling unsatisfied by the end, impressed but unmoved. Despite the wonderful performances and sensitive direction, despite Albee’s dazzling virtuosity in the second act, despite his courage in staring at death, there’s something too distant and cerebral about this abstracted meditation on life. I didn’t leave the Lyric feeling invigorated by the experience the way one would hope to leave a play, be it comic or tragic. I think that’s because the most crucial part of the experience, the satisfaction in coming to terms with A,
belongs to Albee alone.

Boston Theatre - Critics Locked Out?


Wow, Thom Garvey brings up a good point about the Bill Marx interview with Ilana Browstein about the Breaking Ground festival at the Huntington.

Why doesn't the article mention that critics have been barred from attending?

I hadn't heard about this at all. Here is Thomas Garvey:

This raises a few intriguing issues. First, of course, the Huntington can refuse entry to Breaking Ground to anyone it wants - and it's clearly not interested in a critique of the festival or its development process. To my mind, said process is a valid topic of critical conversation, and the fact that I haven't seen clear improvement in the scripts that have gone through it is worth noting. No doubt to the Huntington, however, a review is simply publicity, and who needs negative publicity about their development process? I get that argument, of course.

But here's the rub. Even as the Huntington was telling me I couldn't go to Breaking Ground, I was being approached by one of their playwrights in the festival (no it doesn't matter who), asking me to see his/her work and give some feedback. But I had to tell the writer (after checking with the powers that be) that I wouldn't be allowed in.

An interesting problem, no? It's hard to fight the impression that my critiques of the scripts at the Huntington have impressed at least a few of the playwrights themselves. But oddly, in the interest of "protecting" them from the withering influence of critics, they're being prevented from getting the very feedback they seek. Of course the Huntington has the right to control its own publicity. But isn't there some way, in a "development" process, to include the kind of pushback that might actually help the plays develop?


It is strange the Bill Marx would not mention this, but, as Thomas said, it could be that maybe only he was disinvited.

Boston Theatre - Breaking Ground

Bill Marx interviews the Huntington Theatre Company's Literary Director Illana Brownstein.

Here is a little of Brownstein on how development programs may not be for every play at all times:

And ultimately, while theatres with poor development programs are half the problem, the other half are the playwrights who aren’t choosy enough about where and how they develop their work. It’s always flattering to have a theatre call you up as a writer and say, “we’d like to read your play, what do you think?” It’s seductive. But the writer is the first and last line of defense when it comes to his or her script. He or she has to be able to make decisions about what’s best for the script at that moment, and perhaps that play doesn’t
need another reading. Is it too many cooks in the kitchen? And at a certain point, a reading is no longer useful - the writer needs to see the play in production.


Of course, it’s also up to the theatres to be honest about what the
purpose of a reading might be. Is it secretly an audition for a season slot? Is it a way to justify funds given by a foundation or private donor? Or is it a way for the theatre to initiate a relationship which may pay off down the road, even though this particular play may not be the one that lights their fire?


There perhaps needs to be more transparency on both sides. One of
things I make sure to do at the Huntington is to ask one very important question of the writers we court for Breaking Ground: do you need to hear a reading of this play right now?



Emphasis mine. Ms. Brownstein couldn't be more right there and she goes on to say that sometimes plays are at a stage where the playwright needs a production. Although, earlier in the article, she does admit that there are many ancillary benefits to a reading other than to just hear the play.

It is a good interview about how a development program at a major regional theatre works.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ed Seigel Prefers Bangs

I think you overestimate our dear Viennese, my friend. You know you didn't even give them a good bang at the end of songs, to let them know when to clap?
-Salieri to Mozart in Amadeus


Ed Seigel in the Globe Today

In "Shining City," an inexperienced therapist tries to console an older man who thinks he's literally being haunted by his wife. McPherson's writing is so crisp and rhythmic, and the acting so good, that it's never anything less than a moving story about human nature in all its messiness. But it wouldn't be much more than that without the final image, which slams home what a difficult time the therapist is going to have trying to escape his own demons, and what a difficult time we will, too, if we don't face up to our fears and
desires.


The counterargument is a good artist shouldn't need such "tricks"
to underscore his or her themes. Tell that to a classical crowd after that Beethoven symphony. And aren't the final images of "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Bonnie and Clyde" what really sear those great movies into our memory bank?


I've been thinking about the two bank robbers and their death
throes - you knew that, right? - since seeing Michael Haneke's remake of his German thriller, "Funny Games."




Warning: Comments section below contains a spoiler for the Conor Mcpherson's Shining City, (which has now closed at the Huntington, but just in case you don't want anything given away.)
Bad Habit Productions last show was David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow. I heard good things about the show, but didn't catch it myself. Their current show is a play by Neil Simon, and I will try to see it. Because, well, as much as we complain about Simon, we really don't see his work that much anymore, at least not on stage.

In 1963 Barefoot in the Park opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre and rocketed the careers of Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley. Director Mike Nichols was instrumental in the process.


The play was a smash hit, but does not represent the Broadway of that time so accurately as some think.
Barefoot, one should remember, opened after the Broadway success of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf . And the tenants replacing Barefoot at the Biltmore were, respectively, Joe Orton's Loot and the Broadway transfer of Hair.
Really, as Ben Brantley pointed out in a review of the recent Broadway revival in 2006, Neil Simon was ressurrecting a kind of archetype of the spirited woman that existed in the 40's and 50's, (and then put just enough of a twist on it to make way for the kooky careers of the Goldie Hawn types.)

People often call it an artifact of a different age, but Barefoot was almost an artifact at the time it was first produced. Almost.

Simon wasn't a dumb or oblivious man, and Barefoot has the edge about social instutions that is required of comedy. The problem is that Simon was never after the jugular like some of the best comedic dramatists throughout history. Because he didn't have that kind of fire, sometimes things drift into critical assessment of his work that those masters left in the dust.

For instance, you would never hear people leaving The Importance of Being Earnest saying, "it just seems strange that those people weren't living together before they were married," or, "they obviously have nothing in common, it so isn't going to work out in the long run."

A couple of years earlier, Albee had given audiences Nick and Honey as a young married couple and Simon follows up with... Corrie and Paul. It wasn't that Simon is not a thinker or that he didn't have a social focus, it was that he was staying in first gear while everybody else was racing past him.

The interesting work from Simon seemed to come later in his career. About 30 years too late some would say, (and way too little most would say.) Even at this he seemed to be lagging way behind the theatre and still a bit behind the society.

In the 1992 review of Jake's Women, Frank Rich said this:


Neil Simon can never be socially devastating, because, well, he never was. And, unlike truly great comedies, with Neil Simon you get the feeling when the play ends that he really believes in his endings as the actual solution to the problems.

But Neil Simon can be funny, laugh-out-loud funny for long stretches. But a director has to understand the comedy. Perhaps Ben Brantley said it best, (I hate to keep quoting him, but he remains an articulate observer of why Simon was so damn successful,) when reviewing the Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick version of The Odd Couple:

As this set-to-a-metronome production, directed by Joe Mantello,
demonstrates with such clarity, the comic languages of "The Producers" and "The Odd Couple" are not the same.
The humor of "The Odd Couple" is rooted in watching ordinary guys, equipped with an extraordinary arsenal of zingers, turn
each other into irreconcilable caricatures of themselves, the way people do in bad marriages.
The characters in "The Producers" are stylishly drawn cartoons, shaped by the performers' delighted awareness of belonging to the intoxicating, heightened reality of musical comedy.


A similar self-consciousness informs Mr. Lane's and Mr. Broderick's
attitudes in "The Odd Couple," which automatically creates a
distance between them and the men they are playing. Their performances are framed in quotation marks. Mr. Lane is "doing" macho and slovenly; Mr. Broderick is "doing" repressed and anal-retentive. That's different from being slovenly or anal-retentive. And the gap between doing and being fatally exposes the cogs and
gears of Mr. Simon's impeccably assembled comic clockwork.






The highlight is mine. Part of why Simon revivals are tricky though, is that what was once an "extraordinary arsenal of zingers" may not be so potent anymore. But the raw basics of human interaction are still there. Mike Nichols, the original director of both Barefoot and The Odd Couple deeply understood this. Simon, in his autobiography, recounts how Barefoot was not going so well in rehearsals. It wasn't funny. Nichols told Redford and Ashley that the key to the comedy was that Corrie and Paul are not aware that this is a comedy. To them, "This is King Lear!" The rest, for better (Neil Simon's career and the audience's delight,) or worse (the attendant effects on the American theatre,) is history.

Nichols went on to direct the film version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And directed the premiere of David Rabe's Streamers.

Thus endeth probably the longest post about Neil Simon you will read in the blogosphere ever.

Bad Habit Productions will be performing Barefoot in the Park this weekend at the Piano Factory. Meanwhile, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, and A Delicate Balance will be playing at the Lyric and the Merrimack Rep.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Feingold

Michael Feingold writes about something he sees as increasingly common in the work of emerging playwrights, (he says he hates that term as much as the playwrights do.)

He says that there is much these playwrights do well. They are, for example, superbly crafted and there is much talent in the dialogue. But they are lacking one thing:

Drama

Here is a little of Feingold:

Obviously, events occur in these plays, and some of them can be called "dramatic." But the characters in each, as a group, have no dramatic meaning; they suggest the random sample of a public-opinion poll, or a circle of friends accumulated on a social-networking website. They drift through life, showing only the haziest awareness of family or society. The idea that what affects the
play's people cumulatively should have the stature to affect us, the audience, as a group seems to have drifted out of the playwright's
consciousness.


Unlike earlier plays about groups, such as Wendy Wasserstein's
Uncommon Women and Others, which compares the trajectories of five women who've bonded through the shared experience of a Seven Sisters school, the new plays' character assemblages suggest the sitcom producer's instructions in The Heidi Chronicles: "Just tell us who these women are and why they're funny." That's not enough for Heidi, who understandably declines, and it's not enough for the
theater, either. Yet it is enough, apparently, for a wide and affluent stratum of people, served by theaters nationwide—or maybe just for the managerial types who choose those theaters' plays. For them, it seems, the quest to make the figures onstage vaguely recognizable, like people you might see at the mall or on reality TV, has replaced the shock of recognition that comes with great drama. We may be living in a world so dramatic that those who provide entertainment for a living instinctively want to soften their work, providing a
harmless, faintly insipid virtual reality that never encroaches too much on the actual one looming outside.

Boston Theatre "You Gotta Have Arts?"


Though not quite as pause inducing as the Village Voice getting rid of its Dance Critic, the announcement that Arts and Entertainment reporter Joyce Kulhawik is being laid off from WBZ is slightly interesting for Boston Theatre. Kulhawik is one of the Elliot Norton Award Panelists.


I have no insight into the Elliot Norton Award Selection Committee, but unless Kulhawik lands another gig soon, she will be another one of the Norton Award judges that does not sit at a regular drama post. (Though Kulwahik was never considered a devoted playgoer.)


On a personal note, some of the WBZ layoffs were somewhat surprising, even to the media covering it. Bob Lobel and Joyce Kulhawik are really some of the last remnants of newscasters for my generation's childhood, but I guess that brand has outlived its usefulness, finally. The next generation will always have Maria Stephanos's skirts and boots to remember.


Lobel, as Dan Kennedy points out on his Media Nation blog, should be able to secure a new job.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Boston Theatre - Albee In Abundance

It looks as if even the most discriminating theatregoers can safely venture out to see the two recent productions of Edward Albee plays going on in the area.

Just about every critic in town has good things to say about A Delicate Balance at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. And the Lyric's Production of Three Tall Women is starting to get the buzz as well.

In the past year or so I have been reading and looking at critical reactions to Pulitzer prize winners.

A Delicate Balance was really revived into our theatrical conciousness by its 1996 Broadway revival, not its initial run. For, although it obviously had supporters during its very short premiere, the New York Times's Walter Kerr was not at all impressed and some of the critical voices were downright hostile:

Here is Robert Brustein in the New Rebublic of 1966:

Edward Albee's recent work poses a number of problems for the reviewer, one of them being that it is virtually impossible to discuss it without falling into repetition. Looking over the anthology of pieces I have written about his annual procession of plays, I discover that I am continually returning to two related points: that his plays have no internal validity and that they are all heavily dependent upon the style of other dramatists. At the risk of boring the reader, I am forced to repeat these judgments about A Delicate Balance.

And this from Walter Kerr's New York Times Review:

But in the end, how do your get hold of hollowness, how do you flesh out what is drained of flash and create suspense out of what is isn't there? Harold Pinter has done it. ... But Mr. Pinter does everything by suggestion, by playing on our own easily disturbed sensibilities. He never uses the word "fright" he simply frightens us. Mr. Albee on the other hand, plays his hand all too readily, revealing that there is so little there.

(...)

And in an effort to find a stylized verbal technique that will convey the literally unspeakable, Mr. Albee seemed to go directly back to the T.S. Eliot of, say, Family Reunion and to use, much too abstractly and often too sonorously, the reiterations and the repeated rythyms of almost-but-not quite poetry. The images seem to have hollows in them, like well formed chocalate Easter bunnies that crack wide open at the very first bite. Words like "succor, comfort, warmth" recur as though they had no concrete referants, no tangible thread connecting them with days or nights, bodies or deeds...The play itself becomes a condition, standing still, though immaculately still.


Reading Kerr's review, one finds that he just really doesn't know quite what to make of it. It think the recognition of Family Reunion is interesting, and the comparisons to Pinter are contemporary and legitimate. But really, Kerr, the author of How Not to Write a Play, seems flummoxed. Almost as if he perceives he is watching something great, but is cautious against being tricked.

Kerr definitely erred on the side of caution, whereas Brustein tossed the whole thing overboard.

What Kerr sensed, and Brustein did not, is what most critics and Thomas Garvey points to in his review of the Merrimack Rep production:

But while in Woolf, Albee flays his characters down to their last
secret (and then sucks out its marrow), in Balance, he leaves almost everything under wraps, lifting the veil of civilization only occasionally to reveal the horrors moving beneath.


This makes Balance both more humane than Woolf and also harder to pin down; it floats somewhere between tragedy and farce, and its dynamics generate a spooky unease (or perhaps dis-ease, as Agnes insists her friends are carrying "the plague") without ever settling on a specific frame of reference or theme. Is it a critique of a social class, who suddenly face the terrible flip-side of their pampered aimlessness? Is it a satire of a family so dysfunctional that everything but the liquor cabinet has been compromised or lost? Or is it a tragedy of people whose emotional bargains have rendered them incapable of real connection?


Bill Marx on Sarah Ruhl

Bill Marx takes on Sarah Ruhl in light of the Lahr profile in the New Yorker where Ruhl talks about how her artistic vision is more in line with Ovid than Aristotle:

Granted, a playwright can speak nonsense and still write well. But
these are not only puerile caricatures of Aristotle and Ovid — the
transformations of the latter are often triggered by unsatisfied desires – Ruhl’s hostility to reason and psychological depth turns her vision of the unconscious into a child’s grab bag of feelings, emotional states as flash cards that flip haphazardly through the mind. Yes, as Ophelia says, ‘we know what we are but not what we may be,’ but that does not mean that the plastic power of the via dramatica should be unchecked by formal exigencies or unshaped by
flickers of rationality.


And what’s so strange about the urge to learn from experience? It
doesn’t happen often enough, but it is as good a reason to get up in the morning as any other.


Truth is, the works of the best playwrights combine reason and the
irrational, realism and the prophetic; it is the tension between these colliding contraries, not non-stop “wonder,” that generates powerful drama. Samuel Beckett’s figures are obsessed with a desire to desire no longer. George Bernard Shaw’s characters are great believers in reason, yet what makes him great are the sudden intrusions of the numinous. The irony of Ruhl’s rigid generalizations is that she doesn’t see how the finest plays, from the Greeks and Shakespeare to Pirandello and beyond, transform and transcend her breezy preference for the spontaneity of the subjective.