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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: April ::
50 Best American Plays
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0152  Wednesday, 1 April 2009

[1]  From:  John W Kennedy <
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      Date:  Monday, 30 Mar 2009 20:38:39 -0400
      Subj:  Re: SHK 20.0148 50 Best American Plays

[2]  From:  Bob Grumman <
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      Date:  Tuesday, 31 Mar 2009 07:07:19 -0500
      Subj:  Re: SHK 20.0148 50 Best American Plays

[3]  From:  Joseph Egert <
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      Date:  Tuesday, 31 Mar 2009 14:51:36 -0700 (PDT)
      Subj:  Re: SHK 20.0148 50 Best American Plays


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John W Kennedy <
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Date:       Monday, 30 Mar 2009 20:38:39 -0400
Subject: 20.0148 50 Best American Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0148 50 Best American Plays

Mari Bonomi <
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 >Perhaps you do not find the drama inherent in family
 >to be as  significant as drama about kings and princes.

If so, that puts a rather severe restriction upon American drama from 
the outset, seeing that America has few equivalents. To treat, e.g., the 
Vanderbilts so would be merely vulgar, and few American  politicians 
have merited it, except for George Washington  --  and  George 
Washington had become too sacrosanct to write about even in his own 
lifetime. He appears, perforce, as a character in "Andre" [1798], but is 
referred to throughout as merely "The General", apart from one 
third-party reference in a speech hurriedly inserted after the first 
performance. He appears in Fenimore Cooper's novel "The Spy" [1821], but 
contemporary opinion expressly condemned that as being, per se, in bad 
taste. I'm afraid that, like Jesus, Washington is not regarded as, in 
Sayers' phrase, "really real".

My wife has just written a verse tragedy on the Parkman-Webster case. 
Perhaps Harvard professors are nobility, of a sort.

On the other hand, how many British plays have dealt seriously with 
kings and nobles since the Glorious Revolution?

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Bob Grumman <
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Date:       Tuesday, 31 Mar 2009 07:07:19 -0500
Subject: 20.0148 50 Best American Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0148 50 Best American Plays

Short response because I just floated an opinion, then a little 
elaboration, not intending to argue it, which would take a book to do right.

I mentioned a handful of world-class plays and playwrights, though I may 
not have called them "world-class." Twelfth Night would be one. They 
should be enough to indicate what the ones on any list of fifty would be 
like.

One: many more comedies than tragedies.

Two: The tragedies would have heroes whose downfalls were of more 
significant consequence to the world than Willie Loman's. When Macbeth 
died, the world lost someone more important than a salesman: it last a 
poet. Nobility not required. Marlowe's Dr. Faustus is world-class, for me.

Three: preferable though not mandatory would be some attention to diction.

Four: screw naturalism and Ibsenism.

A last comment: what happens in families is meaningful and good plays 
can be made about it, but the best plays are about what happens in the 
world. A play can be about both, as some are, but none that is 
explicitly about family only can be, in my view, a great play.

No more.

  -- Bob G.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Joseph Egert <
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Date:       Tuesday, 31 Mar 2009 14:51:36 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0148 50 Best American Plays
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0148 50 Best American Plays

Ms Bonomi writes:

 >Simply because the heroes of American plays do not meet the
 >Aristotelian conception of "nobility" (being kings and queens of
 >their families rather than their nations), they are not robbed of
 >the potential to be "great" men/women.

Indeed! In the most edifying of British plays, the kings, and by 
extension their fellow lordlings, are robbed of that very potential 
because they are kings and lords.

About ten days ago here in Freedom's Land, public television (PBS) 
broadcast the Nunn production of KING LEAR, originally staged 2007 in 
the UK, starring Ian McKellan in the title role. The Village Voice 
review from 2007 still applies.

   http://www.villagevoice.com/content/printVersion/211338

The mismatched class accents grated on the ear, and Garai's pedestrian 
Cordelia underwhelmed. Perhaps we need a musical adaptation like WEST 
SIDE STORY to fully realize its operatic potential for our time.

In McKellen's post-play commentary, I was struck by his limited 
interpretation of Lear's character, clearly a product of his ruling 
class breeding. The actor fails to note the author's own judgment on the 
king through Regan: "he hath ever but slenderly known himself." Lear 
later explains why: "They told me I was everything." Like Joseph's 
brothers, Cordelia's sisters are in part their father's creatures. They 
and Edmund 'word' their fathers by tongue and pen. Lear arrives at 
com-passion only through a personal Passion that strips off his royal 
lendings to reveal yet one more fellow mortal, that other of the king's 
Two Bodies. The play depicts this education (or 'reason in madness') 
through Nature's purging storm in excruciating detail. At last, Lear 
understands that words may not wield the matter: "tis a lie, I am not 
ague-proof." Lesson learned.

Joe Egert

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