Saturday, May 24, 2014

OUR TOWN v. VIRGINIA WOOLF

Bruce Barton, Winnie the Pooh,
Nick Fondulis in POOH STORY
I've been having various theater-related debates online lately. There is a considerable population in the playwrights world who believe we live in a meritocracy and that's why a disproportionate number of plays produced are written by men - because men just write better plays.

What's interesting about the merit argument is that there's little agreement on what makes a good play. This really hit me when someone in a playwrights discussion thread declared that Edward Albee doesn't write bad plays. While I can go along with the idea that Albee's plays are certainly adequate as plays by any objective standard, I don't like his work at all. I find it generally boring and pointless. I think ZOO STORY is silly and wrote a parody of it. I also got in some digs at another Albee play in the middle of POOH STORY:
LEE  
(talking to Pooh)  

But what about Piglet? What’s that you say? Piglet never existed? Piglet was just a fantasy we shared, out of our deep deep love for each other in the face of emasculated suburban ennui and alcoholism? Nooooo! 

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is pretty much a complete waste of time. I rented the Taylor/Burton movie version before I became a playwright and turned the video off before the end because I was so bored - why do I want to watch a bunch of drunks bicker and say mean things to each other? Once I became a playwright I felt it was my duty to get through the whole play, and I still wasn't impressed. Their kid was just imaginary. Oh. OK. Well that's the kind of pointless thing a couple of hopeless alcoholics would do. So what? They couldn't have kids? Well maybe that's just as well, I can't imagine a kid would have it very easy with a couple of nasty drunkards for parents.

And the funny thing is, not even people who like the play agree about it. I'd been told that the ending of VIRGINIA WOOLF was hopeful - it showed they loved each other. I was told by someone on the playwrights discussion thread that the end of the play showed that nothing was ever going to get any better - and he was a big fan of the play.

On the other hand I think that OUR TOWN is one of the best plays ever written, and Emily's post-mortem scene never fails to make me cry. And a couple of people on the playwrights discussion thread said how boring OUR TOWN is and how much they hated it.

So there you go - not everybody likes OUR TOWN and not everybody likes VIRGINIA WOOLF - and yet both are considered classics of the theater. So if there is no agreement on plays that are standards in the repertoire, how unlikely is it that people will agree on the quality of new plays? Very unlikely, I think.

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