Tuesday, 11 November 2008

left or right isn't the question

The New York Times ran a piece last month which said that nearly all Broadway plays were liberal or left-wing. Last Sunday the Wall Street Journal's theatre critic, Terry Teachout, joined the debate

the problem with today's political theater is that its practitioners see their plays not as works of art but as means to an end. In such tedious exercises in left-wing agitprop as Sam Shepard's The God of Hell, Caryl Churchill's Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? and Tim Robbins's Embedded, we are presented with a black-and-white universe of victims and villains, a place where every deck is stacked and never is heard a surprising word.

Teachout didn't welcome the prospect of right-wing versions of issue-driven plays. He quoted Chekhov,

Anyone who says the artist's field is all answers and no questions has never done any writing. . . . It is the duty of the court to formulate the questions correctly, but it is up to each member of the jury to answer them according to his own preference.

The issue today is not whether playwrights are left-wing or right-wing (the terms are too broad to have any real use in this context), but whether playwrights are formulating the right questions correctly.

Climate change has ushered in pressing new ethical dilemmas about our responsibilities to people that we will never meet. These relationships are spatial and temporal: what A does in one country effects B in another; what C does in one century will effect D in another. These aren't easy issues to put on stage.

It's one reason why a major play has still to be written about it.

Teachout's article attacked here. (Ht. Theatre Ideas and Poor Player.)

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