May 15, 2007

Als Again

Radio Golf just got four Tony noms, but The New Yorker's Hilton Als is having none of it:
“Radio Golf” is a formulaic work that illustrates why Wilson was not, in the end, a great artist: his approach to examining the lives of black Americans was traditional, often cliché-ridden, and comfortably middlebrow...Barely thirty minutes into the action, we’re already on familiar ground: it’s Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” meets Lifetime TV...Wilson is the worst kind of moralist. He uses black people—which is to say, “real” or poor black people—as the barometer by which all others must be judged; anyone who doesn’t fit the bill is just plain evil...This essentially Puritan strain in Wilson’s thinking makes his characters reductive, simple silhouettes projected onto an even simpler backdrop....For Wilson, all blacks are brothers, whether clad in rags or Armani suits. But life doesn’t work this way—at least no lives spent under the yoke of this country’s astonishing and still prevalent racism. In the nineteen-sixties, academic philosophers and sociologists alike tried to address “the Negro problem”—the economic and racial disadvantages inherent in black life. Wilson came of age in that era, and was clearly influenced by the sanctimonious air of their reasoning. With his own lyrical-sounding agitprop, he, unfortunately, adopted the belief structure of the “concerned” oppressor, while claiming to speak for the oppressed.

Whatever its merits as a criticism of Radio Golf, does this seem a fair assessment of Wilson's ouevre? Als can't be bothered to mention or cite any of the playwright's other nine plays in this sweeping diss.

But then, Als has a record of saying odd, dubious, ostensibly provocative things. Last week, at the end of an otherwise straightforward takedown of LoveMusik, he incomprehensibly compared its aesthetic inspiration to Springtime for Hitler. Last year, he had some very odd things to say about Meryl Streep and Mother Courage.


parabasis said...

i think it's bullshit. And the lack of support from other Wilson plays (or even real textual analysis of this one) is what makes me think it's bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Is Als trying to be a Baby Brustein?

Frankly, anyone who discounts "Fences" or "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" should be distrusted. And I say this as someone who was disappointed in "Radio Golf."