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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: March ::
50 Best American Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0116  Friday, 13 March 2009

[1]  From:   John W Kennedy <
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      Date:   Monday, 09 Mar 2009 17:29:58 -0400
      Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0107 50 Best American Plays

[2]  From:   Bob Grumman <
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      Date:   Monday, 09 Mar 2009 16:58:37 -0500
      Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0107 50 Best American Plays

[3]  From:   Scot Zarela <
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      Date:   Wednesday, 11 Mar 2009 13:18:20 -0400
      Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0107 50 Best American Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:      John W Kennedy <
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Date:      Monday, 09 Mar 2009 17:29:58 -0400
Subject: 20.0107 50 Best American Plays
Comment:   Re: SHK 20.0107 50 Best American Plays

Mari Bonomi 
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 >(And I'd include The Crucible, Raisin in the Sunday, Long Day's
 >Journey and Moon for the Misbegotten, Picnic, Our Town, and so
 >many, many other wonderful plays . . . along with such musicals as
 >South Pacific.  But my taste for the most part seems to hover around
 >the middle third of the 20th century, which is an injustice to all the
 >fine playwrights both before and after.)

I believe Kerr remarks somewhere that, for everyone, the Golden Age of 
Theatre is "right before I became a professional".

Yet I am disturbed to see that, here, of all places, I seem to be the 
only person aware that American theatre existed before late O'Neill. 
Folks, it wasn't all Shakespeare and "Bertha, the Sewing-Machine Girl".

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:      Bob Grumman <
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Date:      Monday, 09 Mar 2009 16:58:37 -0500
Subject: 20.0107 50 Best American Plays
Comment:   Re: SHK 20.0107 50 Best American Plays

 >I agree with Charles Weinstein, too. I doubt that there are as many
 >as fifty good American (published) plays. One reason for that is their
 >obsession with family. There are four levels of playwriting, in my view:
 >child-, adolescent-, adult- --and Shakespeare-. The child-level 
playwright
 >writes entirely about himself. The young Frenchwoman who had a
 >success with a very autobiographical play in, I think, the sixties would
 >be a good example. Can't think of her name or the title of her play
 >although I was involved in a college production of it years ago. The
 >adolescent-level playwright's world is enlarged to himself and his 
family.
 >The Glass Menagerie, for example. The adult-level playwright has a
 >bigger world.  The few Americans caring about this world fall short of
 >greatness because too propagandistic and concerned too much with
 >third-raters (like Miller's Loman).  I'm with Aristotle in believing 
in the
 >need for kings as main characters (except that I'm indifferent to 
political
 >figures, preferring the equivalent of kings in the arts or sciences, 
and I'd
 >want my kings in comedies as well as in tragedies.  No American is
 >Shakespeare-level (though I'd put Shaw, Wilde, Stoppard, Jonson, Fry
 >and other English playwrights in that class, as well as Moliere, 
Aristophanes
 >and others who wrote in other languages).  You don't need to be a poet
 >to reach this level, but it helps.  No American (whose plays have been
 >staged) that I know of has written successful verse drama except Eliot,
 >once, and he did so as an Englishman.  (Maxwell Anderson was only
 >technically a poet.)

For a reference point, I consider American poetry world-class because of 
Stevens, Frost, Roethke, Cummings, Pound, Eliot (if considered 
American), Jeffers, and a number of contemporaries whose names, I'm 
sure, are unknown to just about everyone linked to Shaksper, and who do 
not include Merwin or Ashbery.  On the other hand, I don't think much of 
American novelists, either.

--Bob G.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:      Scot Zarela <
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Date:      Wednesday, 11 Mar 2009 13:18:20 -0400
Subject: 20.0107 50 Best American Plays
Comment:   Re: SHK 20.0107 50 Best American Plays

Mari Bonomi writes:  "I understood and passed by Charles Weinstein's 
comment, having experience of Charles's jaundiced eye.  But I would like 
to know why Mr. Zarela feels the same, that there are no 'Best American 
Plays.'"

I simply meant that such lists are absurd --- 'fifty best' plays (or 
books, movies, wines, cities ...) when the excellencies of individual 
works are incomparable!  Or, if it happens that comparison fits some 
handful of the plays, it's on grounds irrelevant to the forty-odd 
others. Then the numerical ranking, never justifiable, casts a fake 
nimbus of precision around the undertaking.  'Fifty best' list-making 
can be a trivial amusement --- or if you like, a serious game, provided 
we remember that it is a game ... and that there's no such thing as the 
fifty best plays.

These are my own, I don't claim to know Charles Weinstein's reasons; 
only that, whatever they may be, we come out at the same place.

--- Scot

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