Monday, July 02, 2007

On Reclamation

My friend and colleague Martin Denton, in a June 29 post on the nytheatre i, talks about the Mint Theater Company and what a really extraordinary job Jonathan Bank has done over the last decade or more to locate neglected but worthy plays (if I may appropriate the title of the company's published anthology of such works). I review the Mint's work regularly and while there will always be a certain amount of variation in script quality, Bank has one of the keenest eyes (and ears) I've ever noticed -- you walk into a Mint show thinking, well, what super-hoary chestnut has he dug up this time? -- and then you find out that he has really discovered, or rediscovered, a gem.

I am posting on this because this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I wish to add, for example, that there are two other companies in town that have been making similar strides working with this kind of material, and because the Mint has become such a big deal (however deservedly), it tends to suck a lot of dramaturgical oxygen out of the room. The two companies are the Metropolitan Playhouse (where I have been the dramaturge on two Clyde Fitch revivals) and the Peccadillo Theatre Company, which has an affinity for American work from the 1920s and 30s.

I began getting interested in Fitch in 1997 and in a future post I'll talk a little more about how that happened, as it is a terrific story. The point is, 10 years ago the whole question of theatrical reclamation was very much not on anyone's radar. And one thing I still would like to see is a real focus on 19th century American drama -- the Augustin Dalys and Charles Hoyts and James A. Hernes, all of whom were men of letters in the generations immediately prior to Fitch and who laid down markers on which much of the 20th century American drama was derived. (I know that Jonathan Bank has some differing feelings about that, and while I respect him for his view, it is true that everyone, even Jonathan, has the right to be dead wrong.)

To wit, Metropolitan is really the only company -- not the Mint -- to consider early American drama more of a priority than forgotten British drama, which is really Bank's bent. I say this not as a criticism but as an observation. In the late 90s, Metropolitan had a great run of it, reviving Rachel Crothers' A Man's World, Langdon Mitchell's The New York Idea, Ed Chemely's brilliant adaptation of Eugene Walter's The Easiest Way, and Roi Cooper Megrue's It Pays to Advertise, among other plays. These were great and early American classics all -- all representative of the distinctive and palpable evolution in playwriting that was in evidence in the years immediately before the first World War.

So as much as I admire the Mint, in the spirit of flag-waving that accompanies the Fourth of July, here's to neglected but worthy American plays, and the desire to see them reclaimed, by Bank or by whomever. And thank you, Martin, for the post.

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