My half-year in playscripts

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Christopher was kind enough encourage me to write about the plays I’ve read this year, so here goes:

  • The Party, by Trevor Griffiths: Most of what I had heard about this play was the big speech—the sort of special guest at the local communist club gives a speech about the proletariat and the intellectual class that’s something like fifteen minutes long. Laurence Olivier in the premiere production. Must have been a thing. Anyway, it’s an interesting play formally, but the big focus of the play is about the politics of the Left, and it’s just not really very interesting anymore. If it ever was. And it’s one of those plays that thinks it isn’t misogynist but is very much painfully so. In the long run, I think my main memory of the play will be the stage direction The fuck is bad.
  • Pipeline, by Dominique Morisseau: I have very little recollection of this one. If I remember correctly, it’s a realist/naturalist play that deals with young people in school and their families, and it was just depressing without being particularly insightful. The language was good, though.
  • Stupid Fucking Bird, by Aaron Posner: This is an adaptation of The Seagull, and it’s incredibly formally avant-garde in a late-seventies Robert Patrick sort of way, I think. At the opening curtain, an actor says to the audience that the play will start when someone says “start the fucking play.” Then everyone waits until someone in the audience demands that they start the fucking play. That sort of thing, you know? I think it would be in some ways fun to act in, but I wouldn’t buy a ticket to it.
  • Merrily We Roll Along, by Kaufman and Hart: I had never read the play that the musical is based on. Now I have! It’s… um… theater people sure do love theater about theater people, hunh?
  • The Bacchae of Euripides, by Wole Soyinka: I don’t really know why I picked this up. It was interesting, but seemed to me to be a diminishment of the original play, rather than an expansion. I didn’t itch to read it aloud, as I often do for plays. I think there is much in The Bacchae that can speak to our current (American/Western) cultural moment but Wole Soyinka isn’t speaking to that, so it missed me. Well, and it wasn’t really aiming at me, anyway.
  • A Doll’s House Part 2, by Lucas Hnath: I had heard such good things about this, and the audacity of writing a sequel to A Doll’s House in our contemporary theatrical idiom really appealed to me. Unfortunately, the actual playscript didn’t appeal to me at all. The naturalist language isn’t intriguing, and the questions of what happened to these individuals also weren’t answered in any intriguing way. They are fairly interesting people, I guess, and it’s all very plausible, but I felt myself so-what-ing the whole thing.

So, yeah, I didn’t really like any of the plays I’ve read so far this year. I’m also partway through Peer Gynt and The Recruiting Officer, both of which I’m ambivalent about—each have some great moments but a lot of dull bits around them. And I’m definitely taking recommendations for playscripts to read in the second half of 2019.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

2 thoughts on “My half-year in playscripts

  1. Chris Cobb

    Thank you!

    It’s too bad none of these plays turned out well. I had heard positive things about Stupid Fucking Bird and A Doll’s House Part 2. Aaron Posner is a very highly regarded director of Shakespeare, so I was hoping he would also do well as a playwright, and a strong sequel to A Doll’s House would have been highly interesting. And a Soyinka adaptation of The Bacchae seems like it ought to be interesting, too. Just because a play seems like it ought to be good don’t mean it will be . . .

    I wonder how the Doll’s House sequel compares to Clybourne Park as a sequel to A Raisin in the Sun? I didn’t enjoy Clybourne Park, but I thought it was a well-crafted and provocative play and made a pretty good attempt at following up intelligently on a towering and definitive drama. Does the Doll’s House sequel have any of the feel of Clybourne Park?

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      I skimmed the text of Clybourne Park and haven’t seen it. I wasn’t knocked out by it, obviously, not enough to make me stop skimming and start reading. So I don’t think I can compare. Still, I thought Clybourne had some interesting notions as a play—reversals and pairings and so forth. I was expecting Doll2 to have more of that, but if it did, I missed them. Mostly, it was more like another whack at the issues, from generations of experience later. It wasn’t bad, mind you, and I suspect that it gave the actors some marvelous opportunities to do the sort of naturalistic acting that people eat up these days. I just found… well, honestly, it felt an awful lot like the typical American domestic-squabbles-of-unpleasant-affluent-people drama that I have grown heartily sick of. In other words, I don’t think there was anything there worth seeking out particularly.

      I think it would be worth your while reading SFB—that was commenting much more interestingly about theater and the original play and storytelling. But it never sang for me, off the page. The only thing I knew about Aaron Posner other than this script was from the film of the production of Macbeth that he co-directed with Teller at the Folger, which was very good. I could imagine a college for the performing arts (or a high school, if sufficiently relaxed about Language) producing SFB to excellent effect, as presumably the audiences would not be as jaded as YHB about metatheatrical tricks drawing attention to the artifice. Which I love, actually, so I think it’s just that these particular ones didn’t work for me. Or didn’t work for me on the page, or on the page on the day I read the thing. Y’know?



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