Saturday, December 15, 2007

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Historicism

I just read a Nov. 26 post by Rob Kendt and felt like I wanted to respond.

In his post, Rob points to an essay by Charles McNulty published in the Los Angeles Times. It's rather the same story Charles Isherwood wrote in which he asked playwrights to return to the Great White Way from icky-poo California -- which in turn made Jon Robin Baitz, writing for the Huffington Post, a blogospherical warrior. McNulty's approach, however, was somewhat more kind that Isherwood's. Just look at the headline:

What are playwrights waiting for?
The issues underlying Broadway's shutdown are rife across the U.S.

In McNulty's piece, the end of one particular paragraph and the beginning of the one that follows it struck me as particularly salient:

And theater critics such as Shaw, George Jean Nathan, Kenneth Tynan, Eric Bentley and Frank Rich have never hesitated to remind artists of their higher mission.

Broadway, chockablock with tourist trash, hasn't been a particularly hospitable environment for trenchant social vision lately.

While McNulty is right about the former, he is not, I feel, especially right about the latter in the sense of the word "lately." Broadway has been unfriendly to the trenchant social vision for at least 40 years, and the exceptions are just that -- anomalies.

McNulty's problem with Broadway is really one of expectations: Because the nation has branded Broadway as representing the finest theatre Americans can create, we naturally expect that it will serve our highest goals and ideals. But fundamentally, Broadway is a business, not a social-service platform, and the result is that those goals and ideals are not prioritized as we might like them to be.

Let's also acknowledge that everything depends on the definition of "trenchant social vision." One might cite Angels in America from the early 1990s, but I'm not sure one could name five other Broadway plays from that period that unquestionably match Kushner's "trenchant social vision." August Wilson's plays might constitute such a vision, but what other plays on Broadway were contemporaneously as fervent and poetic, as -- indeed -- trenchant.

The question I have is why we demand of Broadway what Broadway, by its temperament and nature, is not likely to provide?

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: