Tuesday, February 21, 2023

More theater thoughts

I have written quite a bit about theater on this blog over the years, although very little in the past few. 

One of my earliest Heavens to Mergatroyd blog posts was a defense of Our Town. Five years later I said it was a better play than Hamlet. 

I have had thoughts about the work of Annie BakerTom Stoppard's ARCADI, Adam RappBruce Norris and Tony Kushner. I was not thrilled with Kushner's THE INTELLIGENT HOMOSEXUAL'S GUIDE TO CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM WITH A KEY TO THE SCRIPTURES, but in general my love for Kushner is second only to my love for Shakespeare and Thornton Wilder, primarily because of Angels in America and the screenplay for the movie Lincoln

And of course I've written about how much I hate David Mamet.

Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonough has always gotten on my nerves, much like Tracey Letts does, and for the same reason - for their plays that traffick in female suffering for the entertainment value. I've complained about them both.

Although to be fair, the helpless suffering of women has been a staple of The Theatre since The Trojan Women. You kind of can't go wrong with women wallowing in squalor.

Way back in 2005 I was thrilled by a take-down of McDonagh by Charles Isherwood in The New York Times. Re-reading it now, I am struck by how much our current moment of "woke" theater is the pendulum maxiuma from the nihilistic anti-political theater of two decades ago:
Mr. McDonagh's view of theater is all about the medium, not the message. Here's Katurian again: "I say, keep your left-wing this, keep your right-wing that and tell me a story!" (I've elided one of Mr. McDonagh's trademark expletives.) "No ax to grind, no anything to grind. No social anything whatsoever."

This is a popular idea at a time when many serious artists seem to have ceded the landscape of ideological entertainment to the likes of Mel Gibson and Michael Moore. It is taken for granted that a movie's opening weekend box office, its stylistic allusions to other movies or the potential romantic alliance of its stars are more relevant topics for discussion than any artistic aspirations it might have. The same mindset infects Broadway, now a tag-along, unhip member of the culture clan, on a smaller scale.

But is this a healthy ideal? Entertainment can, after all, aspire to do more than merely serve up narratives diverting enough to keep us hooked for a couple of hours. (Or in the case of the egregiously overwritten "Pillowman," three.)
And recently I read one of the best descriptions of McDonagh of all time, written by Mark O'Connell for SLATE:
And this is characteristic of McDonagh in general; for all its reputation for darkness and perversity, his work is expertly crafted light entertainment passing itself off, sometimes almost convincingly, as provocative, serious art.

Fortunately women have made progress in the theater since two decades ago, although the window for white women was from about How I Learned to Drive to The Flick. Since then, white women have been pretty much lumped in with white men as beneficiaries of ages of white privilege in the theatrical Anglosophere, who should step aside now. Of course it's true that non-white playwrights have been shut out for centuries - it's just that white women have too, and a couple of decades of white women writers being in vogue isn't quite enough to make us the dominant demographic.

I'm certainly not the only woman in theater who has complained about men running the show. Theresa Rebeck has courageously gone into battle on behalf of women, time and again.

More recently, well, 2018, Quiara Alegría Hudes has had interesting things to say: https://www.americantheatre.org/2018/09/27/high-tide-of-heartbreak/

I've gotten interested in Hudes recently because she included a character, based on a woman I knew, Kathy Chang, in a play of hers called Daphne's Dive, and I've been thinking about writing a play about my misspent youth, including the impact that Chang had on my life, for over a decade now.

I should be interested in Hudes because she won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2012 for a different play, Water by the Spoonful, but I'm terrible at keeping track of which playwright won which award when. 

I'll have more to say about Hudes soon, specifically her memoir, "My Broken Language."