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.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Taking the Bait -- A Playwright Digresses

OK, OK, I'll bite. During my weeks of respite from blogging, I missed the announcement on the BBC -- reported here and here -- that Harold Pinter no longer plans to write plays.

Isaac Butler has scolded me for it, and written some very smart things about Pinter in the meantime.

George Hunka has joined him in taking the lack of press response to said announcement as scandalous under-coverage, one more example of the neglect of the theatrical arts and the myopia of theatre critics.

Mac Rogers wrote a Pinter-esque scene as a tribute. Nicely done, by the way, although a pinch more clarity in the power struggle (especially in a workplace setting) in addition to the scatology would really give it that classic Pinter punch. Still, a particularly nice tribute to a writer whose first play was supposed to be a parody of Beckett but was so good it stood on its own.

So, here I am, taking the bait. A few scattered thoughts, mostly about over-reaction.

Calm down, gentlemen. He didn't die. All he said was, "I've stopped writing plays. I've written 29 plays. My energies are going in different directions. I'm certainly writing a lot of poetry, and I'm using a lot of energy, more specifically about political states of affairs, which I think are very, very worrying as things stand."

Remember, George, when you said you were going to stop blogging? How long did that last?

By the way, I agree with both you that Pinter is one of the great playwrights of the 20th century, but my first reaction to hearing this news was, didn't he already stop writing plays? When was the last time Pinter really, really inspired you with a work? Sure, I'll read or see anything he writes, but it wasn't as if he was in his playwriting prime. Maybe a rest from the form will do him good; maybe he'll return with a fresh look at the theatrical medium. Maybe the entire world will be better off because of this. Relax.

And people do retire, you know. I only wish more playwrights had the money to do so, could hang up their hats and turn in their pens and live off a well-earned 401(K) for their labors if their royalties for book, stage and film don't suffice. As far as I'm concerned, they don't even need to write poems -- Pinter's plan. Here's a fantasy: Pinter takes up golf and returns with a play about it, called "The Putter," involving some use of a 9-iron so unmentionable that the PGA lobbies to ban the play in America, whereupon it sets new records for Broadway and ushers in a new era of serious playwriting.

Don't be so despairing. I say he's just digressing.