Aug 27, 2006

Discouraged

So Garrett Eisler takes a big dump on Mother Courage, adding another diss to my scorecard. At least he tells us what he'd have preferred to see:
Imagine if Wolfe & co. devised a 90-minute "riff" on Courage—fully updated to reference Iraq (instead of the safe, pussy-footing winks Kushner drops into the current script). Now that would have been an "event."

To which I'd respond: So you didn't really want to see Mother Courage at all.

The other point I'd make about Eisler's slam is that there's no reasonable way to defend a show against rubrics like "safe," "respectable," and "bland" without looking a conservative fool—in effect to say, "But I was positively shocked, I tell you!" You can always set the bar for what's sufficiently daring, experimental, or challenging far beyond your clueless, stultified, sentimental peers. I can't say I was shocked by this Mother Courage but I was shaken, stirred, and moved. I know one isn't "supposed" to feel at a Brecht show, but I'm so over being told how Brecht should be done and what he would have wanted. Expectations and orthodoxy are straitjackets and critics shouldn't be pedants, but something about Brecht brings out the cultural commissar in us. Perhaps it was Brecht's tendency to these faults himself that accounts for this, which is why I find Eric Bentley's clear-eyed admiration and contextualization of Brecht the playwright and poet vs. Brecht the man to be crucial to separating the riches this artist still has to offer us from the doctrinaire chaff some of his apostles seem to peddle in his name.

I will only add this: What other playwright's work inspires this much passionate kerfuffle? If I may speculate myself, I think the disputes would please him.

7 comments:

Joshua James said...

I agree, though I also thought the show could have been shorter, I think that much of what I've read regarding negative reviews were reviews of what Brecht is NOT rather than what it is, and I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could fault Streep's performance, but that's just me.

Lucas Krech said...

It's just another blog to add to the scorecard, but I liked it

Eilif said...

Please stop spreading the MISINFORMATION that one is not supposed to feel at a Brecht play. This is one of the worst (of many) falsehoods about Brecht that keep getting taught in drama classes around the country. Read what Brecht wrote -- not some warmed over anti-commie Martin Esslin idiocie that have turned into American pieties. Brecht didn't want people to be merely swept away on sentimentality. But he DID want them to be engaged AND to pull back and have distance on that engagement. Someone who didn't want emoiton in the theater would not have written such scenes as Kattrin banging the drum, Swiss Cheese's death, etc. etc.

Rob Kendt said...

Nice name, Eilif. I have read a lot of what Brecht wrote about his work, and heard many anecdotes about it. Just yesterday I happened to dip into Peter Brook's memoir Threads in Time; he describes meeting Brecht, who tells Brook that his ideal audience is two peasants sitting in the front row, commenting on the auction, not at all taken in by the illusion. Brook was rightly skeptical of such a comment; on the other hand, he was blown away by what he actually saw Brecht put on the stage. When you say "Read what Brecht wrote," I will selectively take that to mean his plays, songs, and poems. The rest is noise.

Eilif said...

And also the theory -- not noise, at all, in my estimation. And where Brecht is no enemy of emotion. Not being taken in by illusion is not at all the same thing as not being emotionally involved. Brecht wanted people to be able to comment on the action AND on their own responses to the action, which include emotion. He is explicit about this in the theory -- and the proof of the pudding is in the eating: his plays.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Garrett Eisler's "review" actually of the second preview? He doesn't mention that fact anywhere in the review, which seems a little strange.

The Playgoer said...

ufujI won't use this space to further defend/argue over my review. But just to rebut the point about reviewing a preview performance...

Anonymous is probably correct that I don't explicitly note in the review text itself that I saw a preview. However, I posted very clearly a couple of weeks earlier that I had seen a preview and was holding off on writing it up. (For this, I was actually thanked by no less than the Public's press office.) And I linked to that post in my eventual review, so anyone who followed that could have understood. (As Anonymous him/herself seems to have.)

In retrospect, though, since the issue of reviewing previews is a sensitive one, I should probably have gone out of my way in the body of the review to mention it again, for the sake of full context.

Incidentally, I do hope those who fault bloggers for reviewing previews understand that we would gladly stop doing so if only more press rep's recognized us as press and invited us to official press nights. Until then, I'm gonna see the show whenever I can and whenever I can afford it.

I agree in principle, though, that being up front in a review about seeing an *early* preview is good blogging ethics. (I stress "early" since even "real" critics do review "Previews" technically, just later ones.)