Jun 29, 2009

It's Too Easy?

I appreciate David Cote playing the role of provocateur, particularly if he's casting himself in that part opposite one of my less favorite would-be provocateurs, Neil LaBute, but I have to say that his recent Guardian piece, registering his approval at the apparent LaBute/MCC Theatre Company divorce, seems off the mark. He's got two basic points that are self-contradicting on their face. He begins by noting the tiresome regularity of MCC's near-annual LaBute preems:
Each year like clockwork, the nonprofit MCC trots out a LaBute – six of them in the last seven seasons. Such a cosy relationship is unheard of in the nomadic and shifting world of New York theatre, where playwrights have to cobble together a living out of grants, commissions, teaching gigs and the rare production.

Cote makes some reasonable points in questioning whether this relationship really benefitted LaBute's work, and though he's on shakier ground in speculating as to why the marriage may be ending, this is all fair-game critical musing. But then Cote zooms out and stumbles into a generalization:
Blind loyalty to playwrights is a problem among New York nonprofits, leading to dismal programming, not to mention stagnation for writers themselves.

To bolster his case, he cites John Patrick Shanley's dreadful Romantic Poetry, and mentions that "Richard Greenberg and Terrence McNally have very little trouble getting new work on, even if neither has had a critical hit in years." I'm unconvinced by those examples: true, Greenberg is practically house writer at South Coast Rep, but I actually don't think McNally has all that many doors open to him lately. And agreed, there's a certain inevitable clubbish herd mentality that seems to happen among theaters as a bloc--Theresa Rebeck, Adam Rapp, and Craig Lucas, to cite three very different examples, don't have single artistic homes, but you certainly get the feeling that artistic directors at various nonprofits are on the same page about which playwrights are produceable. But I think even "name" playwrights have to hustle to get a show on and to stay on theater companies' ever-changing, never-published "hot" list. And so in general I would have to agree more with Cote's first point: that New York's nonprofit theaters are generally not unduly loyal to pet writers, and that what LaBute had going with MCC was an exception.

(Don't miss the lively comments on Cote's column, including a series of acid rebukes from LaBute himself.)

1 comment:

David Cote said...

Hi Rob:

Thanks for the mention (I'd prefer you think of me as a "concerned provocateur") but I fail to see an outright contradiction in my piece. LaBute & MCC had an extraordinary arrangement that no other playwright--save those who run their own companies, which tend to be small--has had in recent memory. I used the apparent shake-up in that arrangement as a jumping off point for a very real issue in the nonprofit world--seasons that tend to be weighted toward known entities. TWO Margulies shows in one MTC season? And Rebeck might jump from MTC to Playwrights and Second Stage, but she's running around in the basic clubhouse. As for LaBute's "acid" comments, I take it you mean his petty, cliche-laden schoolyard taunts were delivered on a steam of bile.