Nov 26, 2007

The Critics We Deserve?

I'm not going near the Isherwood hornet's nest--life's just too short--but I did notice that George Hunka's plaintive wish for better, more socially engaged, Brit-style theater criticism happened to nearly coincide with this think piece by The LA Times' Charles McNulty. McNulty uses the bicoastal entertainment strikes as an opportunity to reflect on the dearth of plays that engage with the emergent "new gilded age" meme:
Why aren't more playwrights offering us images of an age that's perhaps best characterized by the fetishization of the Dow Jones industrial average on the nightly newscasts? Where is the new "Six Degrees of Separation," John Guare's acute comedy of materialism, when we could really use a glimpse of the deception going on inside those megamillion-dollar condos that have been cropping up like Starbucks in the last few years? What about a new "Caroline, or Change," Tony Kushner's challenging musical memoir of growing up in Louisiana in the early-civil rights '60s, transplanted to post-Katrina New Orleans to help us better understand why, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, only one in five African Americans feels they're doing better than they were five years ago? How about a sequel to Lorraine Hansberry's classic "A Raisin in the Sun" to fill us in on what happens to the Younger family after the house they fought so valiantly to attain goes into foreclosure with the rest of the homes built on sub-prime quicksand?...

Comedy has historically been more adept at reflecting contemporary crises...Consider this an APB to the ablest of our comic playwrights--David Mamet, Craig Lucas, Paula Vogel, Richard Greenberg, Lisa Loomer, among countless other talents known and not yet known--to assist us in recognizing the tectonic shift that's been widening the disparity of wealth in American society and threatening the equilibrium of democracy. Rich or poor, all of us are affected by the new reality, one that makes it hard to feel secure about retirement even if you're lucky enough to live in a house that has tripled (at least on paper anyway) in value.

I for one am not particularly stirred by McNulty's preoccupations or prescriptions--I actually don't hanker much for topical plays that critique late capitalism at yet another of its inevitable crossroads, or for topical plays at all; for me, "topical" plays are too often just that, skin-deep. The problems, and our hopes, run deeper than Blackwater, the Fed, and Jan. 2009. And one can certainly quibble with that APB (Mamet's November opens soon, and Loomer has dealt frequently, and recently, with issues of class). All that said, it is good to have a theater critic argue for theater's place at the adult table, no?

No comments: