Thursday, March 03, 2011

Adam Rapp can't fail

I've written about Adam Rapp before, how much male critics want him to succeed. The latest round of critical responses proves my point once again.

As you can see at Did He Like It the critics were mostly "meh" about Rapp's THE HALLWAY trilogy. Most of the critics think the first two plays of the trilogy, ROSE and PARAFFIN are pretty good, while NURSING is pretty bad, but the biggest masculinity cheerleaders, like the New Yorker's John Lahr say the opposite. They think NURSING is the best.

I personally can't get past the premise of NURSING which Charles Isherwood describes as "preposterous."
While a rare female critic, Toby Zinman of the Broad Street Review, describes it this way:

In Nursing, directed by Trip Cullman, the hallway is now separated from the audience by a red curtain, dragged open and closed by a tour guide (Sue Jean Kim— her retro costume and perky manner and the entire device seem lifted from George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum of 1985). This is a museum in the disease-free future, when children don’t know what “sick” means, guarded by a Darth Vader figure (Stephen Tyrone Williams) who’s been sensitized by his brutal experiences in Afghanistan.

Behind the glass lies a man (Logan Marshall-Green) on a mattress. He has volunteered (why?) to be infected with dread diseases (bubonic plague, cholera) and then brought back from the brink of death (again, why?). The public comes to the museum to watch his suffering (why?).

He’s tended by a deranged nurse who belongs to a “group,” but what their agenda is, other than wanting to revive fatal diseases and then die of them, remains unclear. The characters’ motives are all as unintelligible as their personalities, and the entire exercise seems an excuse to perform repulsive acts onstage. More blood. More vomiting. More shit.

But my favorite description is by Mark Peikert in NYPress:
In "Nursing," some people are very angry at sickness' absence, because no disease means no empathy. It's a specious idea, at best, and made worse by the execution. Pain still exists; mental illness seems to still exist. But neither of those things incites empathy in Rapp's characters - a twist on how few Rapp characters incite empathy in audiences.

I would suggest that this is a deliberate choice on Rapp's part because empathy is for girls, not men. And he-man manliness is what the Rapp cult is all about. And that's why, no matter how much the critic dislikes the play currently under consideration, Rapp will nevertheless be praised for his talent.

David Cote in Time Out New York gives a loving shout-out to Rapp's manly attributes in this way, with my own emphasis:
Familiar Rappian tropes include physical decay, violence, cults, madness and futile acts of kindness. Anyone worried that the writer is getting soft, rest assured: By the end of this epic, every bodily fluid has put in an appearance.

...Despite the shaggy-dog aspects of the enterprise, Rapp remains a true man of the theater and a potent writer...

Michael Sommers at New Jersey Newsroom provides a perfect demonstration of a standard all-is-forgiven response to Rapp's uneven talent:
The cumulative effect of the trilogy is negligible except to reaffirm that Rapp is a talented writer who only sporadically rises to his considerable best.


You don't believe me when I say they are all actively rooting for Rapp to succeed? Michael Giltz in the Huffington Post comes right out and says it:
A trilogy of plays is inherently ambitious and it's natural to demand sweep and greatness so you can shout to the heavens about a major new work, especially when it comes from acclaimed playwright Adam Rapp, who seems one major hit away from becoming the Sam Shepherd of his generation. But the simple truth is that he has delivered two solid, if flawed, plays that exhibit his many talents for character and dialogue. The third -- Nursing -- is a bit of a train wreck with its sci-fi premise and heavy-handed denouement. It's further proof of Rapp's considerable talent, but not the home run you long for Rapp to hit.

Although admittedly I said male critics want Rapp to be the next Mamet, rather than Shepard, the other senior manly man playwright. And please note the sports analogy.

John Lahr, Rapp's biggest fan, pays the highest manly man compliment - he compares Rapp's work to sports expressed, amusingly, in Lahr's usual effete style:

Rapp, who played semiprofessional basketball in Europe as a young man, has, as they say in the vernacular of the sport, some terrific moves...

And there you have it - Rapp is a jock. Not even Mamet or Shepard can make that claim. Rapp truly is the most manly playwright of them all. And thus, no matter what he writes and how badly, he'll be with us for the rest of his natural days.

4 comments:

  1. Nancy, I saw your essay linked from the NYCPlaywrights blog. I'm glad I'm not the only person who's disappointed with Adam Rapp.

    I actually am halfway curious about the Hallway Trilogy, though. Red Light Winter, Essential Self-Defense, and The Metal Children all seemed to work from the same bag of tricks and (in my opinion) lazy, self-indulgent plotting. The Hallway Trilogy is at least more formally ambitious than anything else Rapp has written.

    And sci-fi playwriting is so rarely done well that it's too bad Rapp doesn't seem to care about coherent world-building in Nursing. Caryl Churchill's Not Not Not Enough Oxygen is the gold standard to reach for here, but these reviews reveal that Rapp isn't even trying.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this - I haven't seen NOT NOT NOT ENOUGH OXYGEN, I'll have to check it out. I wasn't much impressed by her A NUMBER - I thought it was a straw-man argument against cloning - but if Adam Rapp deserves many many second chances, certainly Churchill does!

    As long as these critics keep praising Rapp - no matter what he writes - he certainly has no incentive to change.

    Not that you can blame critics for EVERYTHING.

    ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. My, my, my. People just love to hate on Adam Rapp. I can't wait til people get a taste of his new play "The Edge of Our Bodies" which opens soon at the Humana Festival of New American Plays.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Are you his publicist Becca?

    And I wouldn't worry about Adam Rapp - John Lahr and most of the male critics - which means most critics - want Rapp to succeed, as I have demonstrated. No matter how many plays he writes that receive so-so or negative reviews, he will keep getting another chance. His critic fan base will hang in there until he "hits a home run" to use one of the critics' manly metaphors.

    It's just a matter of time before he finally bags that Pulitzer.

    ReplyDelete