94% of a five star play, brought down by an ending that felt a tad sentimental to me. But it's the middle play of a trilogy (read it because it won th94% of a five star play, brought down by an ending that felt a tad sentimental to me. But it's the middle play of a trilogy (read it because it won the Pulitzer, which it deserved) and I'm going to check out the rest, which may change my sense of this one's ending. Built around the juxtaposition between an on-line recovery crack addicts site (which is handled very nicely) and the complicated dynamics of a Puerto Rican family that includes an Iraq vet struggling with his ghosts and a young adjunct music professor (who's got a nice take on John Coltrane), Water by the Spoonful reaches out into the larger multi-culture--other important characters are adopted Japanese American, African American and affluent white. The cultural differences matter but they aren't the point of the play, which deals with the ways we do and don't come to terms with our psychic afflictions and work through our family dynamics. It's a meditation on the meanings of family, some of which involve blood, some of which don't. If I get a chance to see a production, I will....more
Catching up on the last few years of Pulitzer Prize-winning plays. There's always a danger of missing something important when you read a script ratheCatching up on the last few years of Pulitzer Prize-winning plays. There's always a danger of missing something important when you read a script rather than see the play in production, and that may well be part of why The Flick didn't blow me away. It's a character-driven piece based on three employees of one of the last 35 mm. film-showing cinemas in western Massachusetts. Each of the characters is fully drawn and their interactions are convincing enough. Not hard to imagine strong comic versions mixed with some serious psychological pathos. I have the feeling I'm supposed to make something important (probably with a capital I) out of the analog-digital film motif, but it never quite clicked for me. Wouldn't hesitate to see a production, but at the end, I came away thinking that if this was the best of the year (not a given for the Pulitzers), it wasn't a great year on the stage....more
To respond adequately to these six short plays, I'd need to see them performed. One was originally produced at the Ontological-Hysterical Theater in NTo respond adequately to these six short plays, I'd need to see them performed. One was originally produced at the Ontological-Hysterical Theater in New York, a venue I've gone to many times and which has taught me that what matters is less the words not he page than the way they're activated. As reading texts, Young Jean Lee's plays strike me as erratic, alternating between really sharp and funny engagement with contemporary problems of identity--especially as it revolves around race, culture and gender--and fairly turgid seeming post-modernist set pieces; she was in the PhD program in English at Berkeley and I found myself on more than a few occasions recoiling a bit from seminar speak. BUT....I can imagine ways of bringing the texts--more often than not written in the form of extended monologs--alive, so I'm giving the plays the benefit of the doubt with the four stars. And several of them--especially Church and the title play, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven--worked well for me as it is. Songs is a hilarious and deadly serious set of riffs on the tensions between Korean, Korean American and "white"--Lee's clearly aware of the flattening entailed in the term--cultural stereotypes.
In a critical essay following the plays, Jeffrey Jones, not really one of my favorite figures in downtown NY theater, writes that Lee sets out to write the "worst" plays she can imagine as a way of freeing herself from internal censorship, of letting herself write the things that would otherwise be taboo. That does account for some of the donnas--the play written around a gaggle of utterly and intentionally unhistorical romantic poets (Wordsworth, Byron, etc.) But Jones seems to think that's a recent discovery--it's a bit as if he's never heard of Brecht, which of course he has. Yes, Lee is destabilizing our notions of well made plays with uplifting endings and consistent characters; yes, she wants to force us to respond in unconventional ways. But that's been a main current of theater for fifty years. It's not fair to blame Jones' special pleading on Lee, but it does make me worry a bit more about the seminar speak element--the notion that the complexity of identity and the untrustworthiness of aesthetic convention is a late 20th or early 21st century discovery. Still, I'd have to see the plays produced to be confident of my response.
For now, I'll highly recommend the title play, and withhold recommendations on the larger body of her work....more
Irritating propaganda that simplifies the already simplified issues raised by the Scopes trial specifically and the science-religion discussion more gIrritating propaganda that simplifies the already simplified issues raised by the Scopes trial specifically and the science-religion discussion more generally. Lawrence and Lee make Clarence Darrow into an unambiguously sympathetic figure--helped by Spencer Tracy in the film version--and reduce the South to the home of a bunch of Bible-thumping buffoons. The play was written against the backdrop of the McCarthy era and has multiple agendas at work. I don't require historical fiction to adhere closely to the facts, but I do think it's legitimate to track the changes with an eye towards the agenda. On some high macro-level, I guess I'm sympathetic to the "pro-evolution" agenda, but framing it like this does zero to advance the converation....more
Sam Beckett meets John Ford, defracted through Shepard's long-standing fascination with the West as Myth. My initial response to the staging in my heaSam Beckett meets John Ford, defracted through Shepard's long-standing fascination with the West as Myth. My initial response to the staging in my head is that it's probably a tad too derivative of Endgame and Krapp's Last Tape to make the Shepard A-List, but it's a good piece of work. The central image of burying the dead horse is tied to the central theme of Authenticity, to which Sam does not subscribe. For me, the best bits were the comic turns--the central character addressing the audience and arguing with himself--and the serious confrontation with loneliness as the play nears the end....more
Focusing on the recovery of a photojournalist (Sarah) injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq, Margulies's play is split roughly evenly between the "bigFocusing on the recovery of a photojournalist (Sarah) injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq, Margulies's play is split roughly evenly between the "big" themes (the responsibility of journalists to their subjects; the moral implications of witnessing atrocity from a distance) and the domestic drama of the central figure and her partner (Jamie/James), a word journalist who had left the combat zone a while before she was wounded. While Margulies doesn't have a lot to add to the discussion of the moral issues, he frames them in a clear manner that brings issues common in Vietnam literature up to date. His treatment of the characters' personal relationships, clearly intended to reflect on the moral issues, is quite a bit less successful. The couple he introduces as a foil for Sarah and James (Richard and Mandy) border on cardboard. It's possible that great actors could overcome the problems with the script, but it's nowhere near as good as Margulies' Collected Stories. Still waiting for the first effective play about Iraq/Afghanistan. The films (Restropo and The Wounded Platoon for instance) are way way out in front....more
Remix of Lorraine Hansberry's classic Raisin in the Sun. Funny and smart, Clybourne Park provides a time-lapse look at housing in Chicago in the 1950sRemix of Lorraine Hansberry's classic Raisin in the Sun. Funny and smart, Clybourne Park provides a time-lapse look at housing in Chicago in the 1950s and 2000s. The first act focuses on the white community's response to the sale of a house to the black family, which is the center of Raisin; the second act shifts to near-present and a white yuppie couple gentrifying the neighborhood which had become all black. Some of the characterizations are a bit broad, bordering on stereotype in ways Hansberry's never do, but it's definitely worth checking out....more