Sunday, November 15, 2009

She Ruhls

set for 1994 OSF production of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth
The theme of the Sep/Oct issue of The Dramatist (publication of the Dramatist Guild) is a back-to-school gimmick: so a number of playwrights (as well as a musical "book" author and a lyricist) gave their versions of a Master Class. All are pretty interesting and several are especially entertaining, like David Henry Hwang's-- a little play in which he pontificates but is set straight by the ghost of his agent.

But the one I keep thinking about is by Sarah Ruhl, a smart enough playwright to have copped a MacArthur grant. Her contribution is actually 10 provocative paragraphs on different subjects. I'll mention only two, that I had reason to think about in particular.

One is "On the loss of the curtain," bemoaning all the time spent dealing with the technical aspects of marking scene changes, now that the convention of simply dropping and raising the curtain has disappeared. She suggests it be brought back, or at least a single new convention replace it ("Why not lights and no sound? Or sound and no lights? Or a monkey on a pole flipping a flip book with the titles of each scene?") so the rehearsal time lost to tech can be cut, and plays themselves will be better rehearsed.

To which I say, amen. I often wonder if so much time was devoted to technical matters, or even to elaborate staging, that the clarity of presentation has suffered, not to mention the depths explored and expressed by actors inhabiting their parts.

Another graph wonders "How it is that Thornton Wilder who radically challenged form and was an inventor and outlier was transformed by intellectual opinion into a treacly sentimentalist for the masses?" She wonders "How to reclaim the dead and enjoyed-by-many and put them back in their proper place as radicals..."

Good questions, but I also wonder if both of Wilder's reputations--as a has-been sentimentalist and a has-been experimentalist--prevents more theatres from doing his plays. Or is it just the large casts? That shouldn't stop university theatres. Though I hesitate to call for doing plays and playwrights that theatres don't do because they know they'd do them badly, I would like to experience some Wilder (The Skin of Our Teeth might be topical now), Shaw, Ibsen, Arthur Miller again--along with more fashionable plays and playwrights.

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