Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sarah Ruhl Tries to Answer Her Critics

Boston Globe has a profile of Sarah Ruhl in advance of the Lyric Stage production of Dead Man's Cell Phone:

Despite Ruhl’s success, she is not without her detractors. Some critics have accused her of an over-reliance on whimsical and idiosyncratic details that can come across as cloying. Others charge that her writing lacks reason and psychological depth. Ruhl shrugs off these criticisms with a frustrated but spirited defense.

“I do think psychological realism is a crock, because it makes emotions so rational. It’s not realism. I think it’s just a form,’’ says Ruhl, whose husband and sister are, ironically, psychiatrists. “Theater, from Shakespeare to the Greeks, has always been about irrationality, in some profound way. So I think to make it all linear and make it all causal is kind of weird. The rational unearthing of neuroses isn’t enough.’’

Well, then.


Lindsay Eagle said...

In many ways, I think she's right. At least in the examples she listed--Ancient Greek playwrights and Shakespeare--theater is about the exploration of human emotions, which are, at their core, completely irrational. So I think it's pretty cool that she is so interested in working with those ancient, visceral themes. Not sure if I agree with her notion that more realistic theater is "a crock," but...

David Cote said...

No one's arguing that the psychological dimension of motivation isn't messy or irrational, or that human psychology can even be represented in any accurate/fully comprehensible way. Shakespeare and the Greeks weren't (couldn't have been) into 20th-century psychological realism, of course, but they were deeply invested in the triad of cause and effect and human desire. Yes, there are also dreams, ghosts, omens, oracles, magic, etc. It's just that Ruhl's tendency to take a half-formed intellectual conceit and ladle a lyrical sauce of whimsy over it and expect it to resonate emotionally is more often than not contrived and unsatisfying. At its worst, its twee and theatrically inert.