Theatre Matters

Contemplations on the dramatic arts from a national perspective


Steven Oxman has contributed to such publications as the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Stagebill, and, most frequently, Variety, for which he has written over 300 television and theatre reviews.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Must Read

Charles Isherwood in The NY Times writes this terrific piece about British directors staging American classics.

For those who hadn't been reading Charles's writing in "Variety" prior to his moving to The Times, definitely pay attention. Professional friendship aside, I have to say that there's nobody better writing out there. He's a terrific critic -- smart, personal, always witty. OK, occasionally snide, but I love that. How many theatre critics can sometimes make you laugh out loud? Charles sure can.

Now, that comment refers specifically to his reviews, and the one downside of his move to The Times is that he's not covering some of the big stuff. Instead, he's writing "think pieces" and features. To this point, most of these have been OK but a little forced. But, boy, is he getting better fast with this feature. Note the ability to make a point -- British directors are prepared to directed classics in a way Americans aren't; then contradict it: there are certainly American directors out there who can do it too (regional theatre folks, natch!); and then bring it together to give a clear-sighted view of some of the biggest issues confronting the culture of American theatre -- the inability to provide big opportunities to young talented directors.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Odds and Ends

Been taking a respite, while some good theatre-related articles have gone unnoticed.

There's this piece from The Guardian, which makes the keen observation that plenty of classic plays contain material so shocking they'd likely never see the light of day in the current artistic/political climate. Key graph is a quote from playwright Philip Ridley, whose play "Mercury Fur" can't even find a publisher:

Ridley is prepared for the fact that some people will be shocked by Mercury Fur, but he is also keen to pose a question: "Why is it that it is fine for the classic plays to discuss - even show - these things, but people are outraged when contemporary playwrights do it? If you go to see King Lear, you see a man having his eyes pulled out; in Medea, a woman slaughters her own children. The recent revival of Iphigenia at the National was acclaimed for its relevance. But when you try to write about the world around us, people get upset. If I'd wrapped Mercury Fur up as a recently rediscovered Greek tragedy it would be seen as an interesting moral debate like Iphigenia, but because it is set on an east-London housing estate it is seen as being too dangerous to talk about. What does that say about the world we live in? What does it say about theatre today?"

Then there's this fun profile in the Los Angeles Times (a subscription site) by Rachel Shteir. She meets with Miles Kreuger, the eccentric owner-curator of a museum-worthy collection, which he calls an "institute," of musical theatre artifacts. Only in Los Angeles!

From the outside, the institute resembles the house in the TV series "The Munsters." A giant rubber tree obscures the fa├žade. Plywood covers a small window near the door. Inside, laser discs cover tables. Wood cabinets bulge with phonograph records. The few gaps between towering bookshelves are filled with photographs and lithographs and posters from plays. It smells like musty dog because, Kreuger says, Molly needs a bath.

Bill Rauch, as stated in the LA Times, has announced his exit from Cornerstone, the theatre company he founded 20 years ago. Cornerstone specializes in going into communities and adapting classics pertinent to local concerns, then stages them with a mixed cast of professionals and community members.

Here's a prediction for you. I predict that Bill Rauch will become the next artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He's been directing shows there the last few years -- he's currently staging a newly commissioned work by "Kentucky Cycle" playwright Robert Shenkkan. They love him there, and Libby Appel will be retiring soon. I don't claim to be a scooping-type journalist, but you heard it here first!

And, of course, there's the big end, the death of Arthur Miller. Been thinking about writing more about this but haven't had the time to process the various feelings. My thoughts about Miller have changed significantly over time, tracking the birth, adolescence, and (I hope) maturity of my own theatrical tastes and tolerances. I revered him when I first discovered reading plays as a teenager, disdained him as I went to grad school and became a completely snotty snob hating all things realism and lacking in lingual poetry, and then learned to respect his best work for the sheer passion and the combination of sentiment and intellect.

I wish the death of a playwright always brought so much attention.