Friday, May 22, 2009

The Case For Stoppard

From the Independent in London:

What will endure from the plays of the late 20th century? Already, the theatre that caused the greatest fuss at the time – the in-yer-face shockers by Mark Ravenhill, Martin McDonagh and friends – look flashy and shallow and strangely dated; only Sarah Kane's psychological slashing seems to have survived from this flashing pack of playwrights. Yet one genre seems to have solidified as the decades pass into bona fide masterpieces, and will perhaps define that period: the play of ideas.

It looks now like the theatre from the 1980s and 1990s that tried to dramatise the great intellectual mudslides and forest fires of its time has thrived better than any other – from Michael Frayn's Copenhagen to Caryl Churchill's Top Girls to Terry Johnson's Insignificance. Using the old theatrical forms of the comedy or the thriller, they ask the most profound questions – what is human life for, and how it should it be lived? Standing above them all, making the case for the entire genre, is perhaps the greatest play of its time: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.


Ian Thal said...

It's a persuassive argument, though even as a Stoppard fan, I have a hard time declaring this one to be a greater play than some of his others, say Indian Ink, or Rock'n'Roll (Our friend, Thom Garvey, makes a strongcontrary case!)

I suspect Indian Ink might simply not get as much play simply because of the lack of familiarity with Indian civilization amongst British and American theatre-goers, but it certainly is a contender for being one of Stoppard's best.

Art said...

Hey Ian,

I was not that taken with Rock 'n' Roll, though I thought the potential was enormous.

I am intrigued by Indian Ink, though.

Ian Thal said...

(Maybe I'm just a victim of the two years of hype in between Rock'n'Roll's London premiere and the Huntington production-- I have the text, I'll have to give it a read and compare it with my memories.)

Another reason that I suspect Indian Ink isn't considered, even though it shares many qualities for which Arcadia is praised is that it does address the legacy of British Imperialism in India in a manner that might make British audiences uncomfortable (and certainly in such a manner that makes me question the popular scuttlebutt that Stoppard is a "conservative" which seems to be largely a reaction to his drawing attention to human rights violations in communist nations.)