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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: March ::
50 Best American Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0138  Wednesday, 25 March 2009

[1]  From:  Donald Bloom <
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      Date:  Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009 08:52:51 -0500
      Subj:  RE: SHK 20.0131 50 Best American Plays

[2]  From:  R. A. Cantrell <
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      Date:  Monday, 23 Mar 2009 17:16:08 -0500
      Subj:  Re: SHK 20.0131 50 Best American Plays

[3]  From:  Brian Willis <
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      Date:  Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009 21:07:16 -0700 (PDT)
      Subj:  Re: SHK 20.0131 50 Best American Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Donald Bloom <
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Date:       Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009 08:52:51 -0500
Subject: 20.0131 50 Best American Plays
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0131 50 Best American Plays

Bob Grumman retorts, "I don't think the fact that there are mothers and 
fathers and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters in Shakespeare's 
plays makes them family plays."

Really? All of the history plays depend entirely for their plots on 
family relationships: rivalries, hatreds, loyalties and loves. There 
wouldn't be any story without the family. Most of the tragedies and many 
of the comedies also depend heavily on those relationships

Perhaps he means only bourgeois families are bad (that is, boring).

"But I'm not up to carefully showing the difference between a play like 
the Glass Menagerie and Hamlet as family plays. One hint: count the 
number of characters in each. I would add that the fact that Tempest and 
As You Like It both have brothers against each other has just about 
nothing to do with family."

As to counting the number of characters, I will say nothing except that 
if he thinks that's significant, he's welcome to it. But brothers 
fighting brothers  --  how can that have nothing to do with family? What 
does he mean by "family" if it excludes the conflict of brothers?

"If I had time and the energy, I'd present a study of the question with 
an analysis of the fifty best British plays and fifty best American 
plays, in my opinion, and say what makes the British ones better than 
the American ones. Haven't the time or energy, so can only express my 
opinions here."

Oh, please. Britain has a dramatic history of at least six centuries, 
the United States of about one. Moreover, Britain gave birth to an 
extraordinary period of intense dramatic activity that rivals the 
greatness of Athens, but remains an anomaly. It might be a more apt 
comparison to leave out all drama written in English between 1580 and 
1620 and then compare any half century of British drama to that of 
America between 1920 and 1970.

I'm not saying that Britain wouldn't win (whatever that concept means) 
but that it would be a much more instructive comparison.

On the other hand, if he really despises all of the large number of 
excellent American plays that have been posted on this thread, then any 
comparisons would be odorous and there's an end.

don

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       R. A. Cantrell <
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Date:       Monday, 23 Mar 2009 17:16:08 -0500
Subject: 20.0131 50 Best American Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0131 50 Best American Plays

I have not seen it on stage, but Night of the Iguana is still very 
enjoyable in its movie version.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Brian Willis <
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Date:       Tuesday, 24 Mar 2009 21:07:16 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0131 50 Best American Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0131 50 Best American Plays

Although Bob is of course entitled to his opinion, I have to be 
concerned with the speciousness of some of his argumentation. Could I 
ask how many plays Bob has read in manuscript, let alone American plays? 
Is he really contending that the best American plays are unproduced? 
That he has read enough of those manuscripts to 'judge' the 50 Best 
American plays ever conceived, drafted, written, and/or produced?

I also find it hard to accept -- in fact, I reject outright -- the 
simplistic claim that the mythical 50 best plays that we are arguing for 
here can be catagorized into "British" and "American". This sounds like 
imperialism, a-hem, elitism to me. One may, of course, prefer a certain 
sympathy of approach that tends to troll through the work of one 
country's playwrights, but I find it very alarming -- and sternly 
disagree -- with the opinion that playwrights of American origin produce 
inherently inferior work. I find the past century of writing by American 
playwrights to be very liberating and democratic in its views 
particularly the work of Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Larry Kramer 
and Tony Kushner.

Besides the point, we are discussing the 50 Best American plays. 
Qualified. Despite Charles Weinstein's typically dismissive and easily 
dismissed comments, and Bob's attempt to do the same despite his lack 
"of time and energy" (I really do sympathize), others are attempting to 
do so. Carpet statements about the category's worthiness are not 
substantive.

I don't think that the claim that Shakespeare's plays are highly 
concerned with family can be so easily dismissed. It's not about the 
quantity, but the verbal and plot quality. Lear is about two families at 
one significant level. "Legitmacy" and "baseness" are not just noble 
qualities but familial ones as well. Hamlet is also a play very much 
concerned with the proper interaction -- and remembrance -- of family. 
Twelfth Night begins with the separation of two families, and ends with 
the comic and ultimately moving reunion of brother and sister. Let us 
not forget Comedy of Errors, the play to me that seems most indicative 
about the nature of the identity of family relationships. And Romeo and 
Juliet is certainly dominated by the plague of the two houses that dooms 
all who associate themselves with, and break the bounds of, those 
familial ties. Even Macbeth, by Act 3 I argue, is as much about the 
absence of a continued family line as it is about ambition, murder, and 
insanity.

Nevertheless, there are some scorching American plays, and some 
completely overrated ones. I would assert, in my mind, the following as 
some pretty solid candidates for the greats:

     A Streetcar Named Desire

     A Long Day's Journey Into Night

     Death of A Salesman

     A Raisin in the Sun

(I would argue for these four as the supreme achievements of American 
drama -- in my opinion. Shattering when done right on stage).

     The Glass Menagerie

     Cat On A Hit Tin Roof

     The Iceman Cometh

     The Crucible

     Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

     Glengarry Glen Ross

     The Normal Heart

And although, I would personally argue with some of its deficiencies, I 
don't think that Angels in America can be left off of a list of 50.

Brian Willis


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