I write one pissy post about the state of contemporary playwriting and ... I get lots of responses! Cool. I'm sorry if it sounded like I was saying there were no worthwhile voices out there. Thanks to the anonymous commentor who rattled off a list of them -- effective rebuke, anon. With the possible exception of LaBute (who's getting a little reductum ad bogosian lately) and Craig Wright (who can't leave a morality tale without the author's claw-marks all over it), I'd agree: there's plenty to be excited about.
But I find myself excited more about the craft than the content with these writers. What I miss is something eminently theatrical in the theatre. It doesn't have to be spectacle, but it does have to be something that we can only receive through shared space in a room. Guirgis, for all his delicious verbosity, hasn't written a scene that couldn't be just as effective on a television screen, or, for that matter, the radio. I don't expect writers to undo the entire organism of commercial theatre with every play they write, but I would like to see a story where the playwright's quill wasn't visibly shoving the characters into direction between scenes.
I think theatre flourishes when cultural geography means something; when time and space (and especially space) are the worthy frontiers. As Americans we often feel exempt from geographic reality, eschewing the uncomfortable space between enemies for a psychological landscape of the same. This psycho-drama is alternately sensationalist or post-modern (Ravenhill and Kane versus Chuck Mee et al) -- but ultimately useless, depending on who's in the audience that night. It all has its place, but not in the theatre. I'm not asking for total allegiance to the Aristotelean unities; and I'm certainly not trying to hash out a Neoclassical aesthetic. I just wish all that effort we spent resurrecting the dead masters went into a more courageous advocacy of ... well ... almost any of the names on that anonymous post.
At the bitter, honest heart of any re-make of King Lear is the mere thrill of historical relevancy -- which, in this case, would be useful for any would-be emporers out there, but not really anyone else. For the groundlings, it's the wind in your hair as you bolt through the centuries, agog at "just how damn relevant that really old play was!" Which, again, has its place. But it shouldn't be the greatest we aspire to. And when over half the plays in New York* are re-makes, re-mounts, classics, or spinoffs ... it's time to stop bitching about the gradual exodus from the American stage. Our allegience to History should never be greater than our respect for Discovery.
Trillam: "The things one takes seriously are one's weaknesses."
Does that mean there's strength in shrugging? Lat muscles aside, I don't agree with that Ludlamism. Farce can be used to deconstruct, sure, but it requires a rational machinery to work. The people are reduced to their basic biological drives, but the directions they travel are the work of logical design. And farce has to keep building on itself to work. Fryan could have closed the genre definitively with Noises Off which is not so much a farce within a farce as it is a meta-farce. And again, as simple-minded as the charcters' goals were, the greater composition depended on a rational carriage to make us laugh.
Dammit! I'm stopping this right now. What I meant to talk about today was how damn cool the Mendenhall Glacier looks when you're close enough to touch the blue-ice crystals. But, I'll have to save it for another time.