Tag: Drama

You and Other People – Drama and Character

…the distinction we live with each day remains simply that between oneself and other people. And the primordial group of other people – our family  – makes up the original cast of characters in the drama of life, a drama that we keep on reviving later with more and more people cast for the same few parts. As for oneself, one is the invisible man. One cannot see oneself, one can only see those with whom one has chosen to be identified.

The raw material of character, then, is not very raw after all. It has already been worked over. It has already been turned into a kind of art: the art of fantasy. Life is a double fiction. We do not see others so much as certain substitutions for others. We do not see ourselves so much as others with whom we are identified. When Plato said we see, not life, but shadows of life flickering in the firelight on the wall of a cave, he was an optimist. Or perhaps he made allowances for the extraordinary distortions and suppressions of shadow play.

Eric Bentley. The Life of the Drama
From chapter 2, Character

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot – Is it Dramatic?

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has established itself as the most original contribution to dramatic literature since 1950. The distinction of the writing is undeniable. All kinds Of good things may be said about the dialogue, “but is it dramatic?” Let us set aside the fact that very little happens in the play, for this is true of so many good plays. And many good plays have wrongly been found undramatic (“not a play”) by their first critics. The first critic to make the point, and repeatedly, that Beckett’s dialogue is not dramatic is Beckett himself — in that dialogue. For this “criticism” is inherent in the recurrent joke of letting the conversation simply dry up and having one character tell the other to say something. In this, Beckett has put into a play what “cannot be put into a play.” For in a play, the dialogue cannot conceivably dry up. A play is, so to speak, a much longer piece of dialogue, reduced to the number of lines one sees in the final text by the craftsmanship of compression. Pauses can only occur when they are equivalent to dialogue, when their silence is more eloquent and packed with meaning than words would be. The dramatist fights against time. He cannot “get it all in.” His craft is the filling out of every nook and cranny that each second as it passes may offer him, just as the painter’s craft is the filling in of each square inch of canvas. That any part of the dramatist’s precious couple of hours should stand empty, and that there should be any difficulty about filling it, is absurd. But Waiting for Godot is ‘drama of the absurd.”

Eric Bentley. The Life of the Drama

10 Great Theater Books

Selections mine, blubs via Amazon.

Theatre Writings, Kenneth Tynan
The best of Kenneth Tynan’s theatre criticism, selected and edited by his biographer Dominic Shellard – with a foreword by Tom Stoppard.

This volume is an edited selection of theatre criticism by one of the most significant and influential writers on British theatre. Spanning the years 1944 to 1965, it includes all of Tynan’s major theatre reviews and articles written for the Evening Standard, the Daily Sketch and the Observer.

It also includes the text of his substantial 1964 speech to the Royal Society of Arts, setting out his vision for the National Theatre.

Tynan’s writings on theatre, according to eminent theatre historian Dominic Shellard, influenced the evolution of the whole of post-war theatre in Britain. And, with their characteristic mix of hyperbole, irreverence and prescience, they remain brilliantly entertaining today.

‘You can open this book on almost any page and come across a phrase or a vignette which is the next best thing to having been there’ – Tom Stoppard, from his Foreword

The Life of the Drama, Eric Bentley
“Eric Bentley’s radical new look at the grammar of theatre…is a work of exceptional virtue… The book justifies its title by being precisely about the ways in which life manifests itself in the theatre…This is a book to be read again and again.” – Frank Kermode, The New York Review of Books

How Plays Work, David Edgar
Distinguished playwright David Edgar examines the mechanisms and techniques which dramatists throughout the ages have employed to structure their plays and to express their meaning.

Written for playwrights and playgoers alike, Edgar’s analysis starts with the building blocks of whole plays – plot, character creation, genre and structure – and moves on to scenes and devices. He shows how plays share a common architecture without which the uniqueness of their authors’ vision would be invisible.

What does King Lear have in common with Cinderella? What does Jaws owe to Ibsen? From Aeschylus to Alan Ayckbourn, from Chekhov to Caryl Churchill, are there common principles by which all plays work?

Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, Keith Johnstone
Impro isn’t just about the theater, it’s about life, about the ability to live improvisationally. Read it. Try the exercises out for yourself.

Great Moments in the Theatre, Benedict Nightingale
Renowned critic Benedict Nightingale, who served as chief theatre critic for the London Times from 1990–2010, collects what he considers the greatest moments from the past 2,500 years of theater. His informative and entertaining essays cover and celebrate a vast array of diverse, historical and important openings and events

On Acting, Laurence Olivier
If you want to read Olivier has to say about acting, read this. It’s fascinating. Amazon, having asked me to give a review, refuses to publish it unless I write five more words beyo the prior sentence, but I have nothing to add.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s most famous play is one of the greatest stories in the literature of the world.

Distressed by his father’s death and his mother’s over-hasty remarriage, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is faced by a specter from beyond the grave bearing a grim message of murder and revenge. The young prince is driven to the edge of madness by his struggle to understand the situation he finds himself in and to do his duty. Many others, including Hamlet’s beloved, the innocent Ophelia, are swept up in his tragedy.

The Best of Off-Broadway: Eight Contemporary Obie-Winning Plays
David Mamet –  Edmond
Wallace Shawn –  Aunt Dan and Lemon
Maria Irene Fornes – The Danube
Susan-Lori Parks – The Imperceptible Mutablilities of the Third Kingdom
Samuel Beckett – Ohio Impromptu
Christopher Durang –  The Marriage of Bette and Boo
Eric Bogosian – Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll
Craig Lucas –  Prelude to a Kiss

27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other Plays, Tennessee Williams
The thirteen one-act plays collected in this volume include some of Tennessee Williams’s finest and most powerful work.

They are full of the perception of life as it is, and the passion for life as it ought to be, which have made The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire classics of the American theater.

Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead, Eric Bogosian
In his fifth, brashest solo show, Eric Bogosian again aims scorching social commentary at the contemporary urban and suburban scene. From subway panhandlers to barbecue-crazed millionaires, Bogosian reveals the hidden humor, fear, hypocrisy and rage of Americans – including, for the first time, “Eric Bogosian,” a hyperaggressive standup comic. With this seductive element of self-revelation, he heightens the disturbing connections between his characters and, by extension, between us and the people we try not to see – and not to be – every day.

‘The Persians’ Review: Aeschylus’s Ancient Portrait of Defeat – The New York Times

First produced in 472 B.C., Aeschylus’s “The Persians” is considered the oldest surviving Greek play. This Dimitris Lignadis staging was broadcast live on Saturday from the ancient amphitheater of Epidaurus; in the spirit of the theater, no recording exists online. The venue was originally conceived as part of the city’s asclepeion (a healing center) because the Greeks considered the balance between body and soul essential to good health. Let’s all wistfully ponder that philosophy.

The show deals with the aftermath of Salamis, a naval battle in which the outnumbered Greeks routed the mighty Persian army 2,500 years ago. At a time when our horizons are closing in, it is downright vertigo-inducing to virtually join a live audience in watching (subtitled) live actors all the way in Greece as they perform a millenniums-old play.

‘The Persians’ Review: Aeschylus’s Ancient Portrait of Defeat
This staging by the National Theater of Greece was broadcast live on Saturday from the amphitheater of Epidaurus.
Elisabeth Vincentelli
NYTIMES

Medieval Mystery, Folk, and Morality Plays – Introduction to

Not long after drama reappeared in the unlikely home of European churches, the church decided again it didn’t like theater. And so, the budding dramatic scene was kicked out into the harsh elements of the outdoors. So, they started having plays outdoors. Today we’ll learn about mystery plays, cycle plays, pageant wagons, and how medieval European theater moved from being a religious phenomenon to a secular one.

The other important medieval genre is the morality play, which Hildegarde of Bingen started. The most famous morality play is “Everyman,” which is still performed annually and often updated. Morality plays have one simple message: YOU GONNA DIE. So you’d better get your act together, because all that love and wealth and fun aren’t gonna follow you six feet under.

15 American Plays It’d Be Great to See Revived | The Village Voice

Everybody knows theater critics are useless. All year round, they occupy free seats, and in return they do nothing but complain, complain, complain. Why, you ask, can’t they do something useful for a change?

So I was complaining (as usual), a few weeks back (Voice, May 23), about having to review the same plays over and over, when the world, so I claimed, was “full of unperformed great plays” deserving revival. In response, I only got press releases announcing that next season, like the last one, would be full of familiar titles. Some of them worth seeing again, no doubt, but not exactly unperformed rarities likely to fill a desperate hunger in our collective theatrical soul. Why can’t our theater find at least a few less well-known plays that are worth a fresh look?

That drove me, shockingly, to do something useful: compile my list of plays we rarely or never see—plays we should be seeing, because they add some quality, which our theater currently lacks.

Sin (A Cardinal Deposed) (2004) by Michael Murphy. Not trying to raise religious hackles here. Murphy’s docudrama, premiered by the New Group, uses Cardinal Law’s depositions before the Boston courts to reveal the inner workings of a bureaucracy’s systematic cover-up of child abuse—something that has tragically spread as a matter of public concern, not only within world Catholicism, but in secular realms like Penn State and Horace Mann School. Murphy’s dramatic map of the Boston case remains a painful prototype of far too many instances revealed subsequently.

The Danube (1984) and The Conduct of Life (1985) by María Irene Fornés: Two full-evening works on very different topics, both still burning. The first, depicting star-crossed lovers forced to confront ecological disaster, now seems stunningly prophetic. The second deals with a government-employed military torturer and the women in his life. Granted, I don’t see TV stars lining up to play these scripts. But I wish they would.

Ready for the River (1991) by Neal Bell: Bell is one of my leading candidates for America’s most unreasonably neglected playwright (though PTP/NYC has just revived Monster, his excellent adaptation of Shelley’s Frankenstein). You can gauge his prescience, from the opening of this play’s harrowing, surreal journey—a farmer’s wife and daughter fleeing because he has just murdered the banker who came to foreclose on the family farm. Sounds dated, I suppose.

The Fabulous Miss Marie (1971) by Ed Bullins. First produced, memorably, at Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre, Bullins’s sardonic study of L.A.’s affluent black couples, living to par-tay while sneering at civil rights marchers, uses vaudeville stylization and short, cogent scenes to treat its characters with a spicy mix of satirical malice and Chekhovian compassion.

In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969) by Tennessee Williams. A failing genius painter and his fearsomely unhappy wife, locked in Strindbergian love-hate, fuel this most challengingly dense of Williams’s texts. But anyone who saw Donald Madden and Anne Meacham play it Off-Broadway knows its riveting power.

Who’ll Save the Plowboy? (1962) by Frank D. Gilroy. Produced by the Phoenix Theatre, this play put Gilroy on the theatrical map; a few years later, The Subject Was Roses cemented his reputation. Harsher and bleaker than the later work, Plowboy won the 1962 Best Play Obie Award.

The Gingham Dog (1969) by Lanford Wilson. Signature Theatre has kindly announced Wilson’s masterpiece, The Mound Builders, for next season. But they, or somebody, should tackle this somberly moving four-hander, mapping the breakup of an interracial marriage, which got an unjustly sniffy reception at its first production.

Lagrima del Diablo (The Devil’s Tear) (1980) by Dan Owens. Political upheaval on a Caribbean island, naturally seasoned with a dash of vodoun, centering on a dictator, an exiled archbishop, and a mute girl with prophetic powers. Owens, a cunning, complex writer, was treated handsomely by the Negro Ensemble Company, but the press, as so often, had its mind elsewhere.

Boy on the Straight-Back Chair (1969) by Ronald Tavel. A Southwestern serial killer, a startling theatricalist form, and a style harshly mixing self-aware joking with mordant ruminations on American violence: Sounds like the playwright who invented the Ridiculous, doesn’t it? It needs doing as the American Place Theatre did it then, with lucid ferocity and no camp.

The Cocktail Hour (1988) by A.R. Gurney. New Gurney plays still crop up a few times a year, but New York really deserves another chance at this funniest and wisest of the gentlemanly playwright’s rueful reflections on his vanishing elite-WASP class. It requires a four-person cast as brilliant as the Off-Broadway original; consider yourselves challenged.

The Ceremony of Innocence (1967) by Ronald Ribman. You’re an American, your country’s mired in a meaningless war, what do you write about? If you’re Ronald Ribman—another leading candidate for the title of our most underrated playwright—you create a fierce drama about the medieval King Ethelred, who retreats to a monastery rather than wage war. Another American Place Theatre discovery that urgently deserves rediscovering.

The Credeaux Canvas (2001) by Keith Bunin. Art, love, forgery, and integrity, all wrapped in one taut, tidy package about a chameleonic painter whose businesslike buddy convinces him to fake an old-master canvas. Playwrights Horizons did splendidly by it, with the then-unknown Annie Parisse and Lee Pace as model and artist. Young wannabes, take note.

A Few Stout Individuals (2002) by John Guare. Everyone’s favorite theatrical fantasist spun this dizzying web of words for the Signature’s all-Guare season. The dying U.S. Grant, ruthless general and hapless President, struggles to make sense of his life, nursemaided by his would-be publisher, Mark Twain, and a host of Gilded Age figures low and high. I’d gladly take this exhilarating trip again.

Zero Positive (1988) by Harry Kondoleon. High on the list of writers one can’t forget, Kondoleon turned out maddeningly original plays that shed their light prismatically, in disorienting multicolored flashes. At least six of Kondoleon’s plays merit revival, but this one, set partly in an AIDS ward and given a troubled premiere at the Public Theater, manifestly leads the disorientation course

  • Sin (A Cardinal Deposed) (2004) by Michael Murphy.
  • The Danube (1984) and The Conduct of Life (1985) by María Irene Fornés
  • Ready for the River (1991) by Neal Bell
  • The Fabulous Miss Marie (1971) by Ed Bullins.
  • In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969) by Tennessee Williams.
  • Who’ll Save the Plowboy? (1962) by Frank D. Gilroy.
  • The Gingham Dog (1969) by Lanford Wilson.
  • Lagrima del Diablo (The Devil’s Tear) (1980) by Dan Owens.
  • Boy on the Straight-Back Chair (1969) by Ronald Tavel.
  • The Cocktail Hour (1988) by A.R. Gurney.
  • The Ceremony of Innocence (1967)
  • The Credeaux Canvas (2001) by Keith Bunin.
  • A Few Stout Individuals (2002) by John Guare.
  • Zero Positive (1988) by Harry Kondoleon.

MICHAEL FEINGOLD, JULY 4, 2012
https://www.villagevoice.com/2012/07/04/15-american-plays-itd-be-great-to-see-revived/

William S. Burroughs Talks With Tennessee Williams | The Village Voice

Although they were both born in St. Louis within three years of each other, William Burroughs did not meet Tennessee Williams until 1960, when they were briefly introduced at a table in the Cafe de Paris in Tangiers, by Paul and Jane Bowles. Burroughs had read and admired Williams’s short stories, and later in the ’60s Tennessee was known to quote at length from Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. But despite their mutual acquaintances (including the Bowleses and the painter Brion Gysin), they were not to meet again until 1975, at a gathering of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Their first conversation of any length took place at a party after a Burroughs reading at Notre Dame University earlier this year, and there they talked and carried on like old friends.

Tennessee’s new play, Vieux Carre, opens tonight on Broadway. Burroughs and I attended a preview two Saturdays ago. The next day we visited him at the Hotel Elysee, where he has maintained a spacious flat on the 12th floor for some time. It was late afternoon, and as I arrived, a few minutes after Burroughs, they were already seated at the opposite ends of a sofa. Tennessee seemed chipper; he got up to show us a pastel gouache he had just completed on his terrace that morning. Two bottles of wine arrived, and Burroughs and Williams resumed their talk.

James Grauerholz

Orpheus Holds His Own: William Burroughs Talks with Tennessee Williams May 16, 1977, https://www.villagevoice.com/2020/02/16/william-s-burroughs-talks-with-tennessee-williams/

In Praise of Self Pity

The tears shed by the audience at a Victorian melodrama come under the heading of a good cry. They might be called the poor man’s catharsis, and as such have a better claim to be the main objective of popular melodrama than its notorious moral pretensions. Besides referring to superficial emotion, the phrase “having a good cry” implies feeling sorry for oneself. The pity is self-pity. But, for all its notorious demerits, self-pity has its uses. E. M. Forster even says it is the only thing that makes bearable the feeling of growing old—in other words, that it is a weapon in the struggle for existence. Self-pity is a very present help in time of trouble, and all times are times of trouble.

Once we have seen that our modern antagonism to self-pity and sentiment goes far beyond the rational objections that may be found to them, we realize that even the natural objections are in some measure mere rationalization. Attacks on false emotion often mask a fear of emotion as such. Ours is, after all, a thin-lipped, thin-blooded culture. Consider how, in the past half-century, the prestige of dry irony has risen, while that of surging emotion has fallen. This is a cultural climate in which a minor writer like Jules Laforgue can rate higher than a major one like Victor Hugo. Or think of our changed attitude to death. Would any age but this receive the death of admired persons “with quiet understatement”? We may think that Mr. Auden pours his heart out in his good poem on the death of Yeats, but just compare Mr. Auden’s poem with the product of more old-fashioned culture, say, with Garcia Lorca’s “Lament for the Death of Ignacio Mejias”! Would even Lorca’s title be possible in English? Is lamenting something we can imagine ourselves doing? On the contrary we modernize the Greek tragedies by deleting all variants of “woe is me.” If Christ and Alexander the Great came back to life, we would teach them to restrain their tears.

Once I did see death done justice to. An Italian actor came on stage to announce the death of a colleague. He did indeed lament. He shook, he wept, he produced streams of passionate rhetoric, until the audience shook, and wept, and lamented with him. Now that is self-pity, certainly. One is not sorry for a corpse; one is sorry for oneself, deprived; and in the background is the fear of one’s own death. But so much the better for self-pity. The experience was had, not refused.

The Life of the Drama, Eric Bentley
amazon

What is the point of drama?

The point of writing about the extremes of human behaviour is not to discourage wickedness by pointing out the inevitability of it’s comeuppance: “Don’t do this at home'” is as misleading a description of what writing counsels “Go thou and do likewise.” The awful truth is that the response most great writing about wickedness provokes in us is neither “Yes please” nor “No thanks”, but “You too?” Richard III celebrates, nay, glorifies activities – brother-drowning, nephew-smothering, tyranny imposing – that have no redeeming social value at all. True, he gets his just deserts. But what the first half of the play does is to confront us with the fact that this appalling man is the most vivid, thrilling and inspiring person onstage. Eric Bentley points out that while tragedy does not reflect the audience’s actions (they have not committed murder),  it “reflects their souls, and in their souls they have committed murder.” By enabling us to imagine what it is like to see the world through other eyes (including through the eyes of the violent and the murderous), drama develops capacities without which we cannot live together in societies at all.

How Plays Work, David Edgar