Terry Teachout takes a look at the most produced plays of the decade and draws some conclusions that, frankly, horrify me:
Only one, “The Laramie Project,” is an explicitly political play—and none is a musical. (“Crowns” is a play with music, not a musical comedy.) This suggests that, Broadway producers notwithstanding, American theatergoers are not know-nothing neanderthals but intelligent people who are prepared to spend time and money grappling with straight plays that are artful, thoughtful and well written.
So if I’m reading this correctly, musicals and “explicitly political” plays are inherently not artful, thoughtful, and well written. The way for a theater to prove that its audience is not made up of “know-nothing neanderthals” is to adhere closely to the Pulitzer list, doing small plays that tend to look like, well, every play, taking few artistic or structural risks.
Even that doesn’t bother me as much as this:
New playwrights deserve a chance, and it looks like most of our drama companies are giving it to at least some of them. But it also appears that far too many of those same companies may be steering clear of the classical revivals that are no less central to the continuing health of a theatrical culture—and that is very bad news indeed.
If this were true, I could maybe be interested in hearing a reasoned, impassioned argument for why the “classics” are so much more important than new work. Teachout certainly does not offer such an argument. He also, maybe more shockingly, bases this assessment on this one list of most produced plays, ignoring the overwhelming mountain of information that would suggest that the “classics” are far from underrepresented on the American stage.
The conclusion he draws is INSANE. Theaters don’t do enough classical plays? Just because no single play shows up on the list? Ignore, for a second, the fact that Shakespeare and Dickens aren’t even eligible for the list because they’re done so much. Ignore, for a second, that he can’t make a compelling case for WHY the old plays need to be done. Focus instead on the fact that those old plays don’t make the list because there are SO MANY old plays that no single one is going to gain traction. Too many new plays? Really?
I won’t even go deep into detail on the Howard Kissel response article, except to say that there seems to be some serious contempt for new plays from the critical corps, and it makes me awfully nervous.