Paul Menard’s recent Time Out New York review of Now Circa Then starts with this zinger: “Add Carly Mensch’s name to the ever-growing list of upstart playwrights lured away from the theater by television’s sweet, and profitable, siren song.” He goes on to say: “Though Mensch may punch the clock writing for Showtime’s Weeds, she hasn’t forgotten her Off-Off Broadway roots. Somehow, laughing through her delightfully quirky relationship comedy, Now Circa Then, makes the pain of losing another talented writer to Hollywood slightly more bearable.”
This blog entry is not about Now Circa Then, a play I haven’t yet seen. Rather, I’m taking this opportunity to ask a pretty simple question: Why do theater critics continue to tsk-tsk playwrights for working for Hollywood? What makes them think it is any of their business?
If your friend was a furniture maker who occasionally took a construction gig to help pay for his weed habit, would you accuse him of turning his back on his craft? If your kid’s kindergarten teacher spent happy hour performing at a local bellydancing joint, would you bewail the loss of a talented teacher? We live in a multi-everything world, where college kids start billion dollar companies while studying for Feminist Perspectives, and CEOs run for/buy their own political offices, and yet theater critics still insist that a playwright should aspire to a pristine career based solely in the Theater.
Here’s the truth about playwrights: first and foremost, we’re all WRITERS, and we’re all hungry to make a living by doing just that – writing. Most playwrights I know would write copy for Depends if it meant they could quit answering phones for insurance companies and actually affix the title “writer” to their business cards. But writing copy for adult diapers, just like writing for a TV show, doesn’t make a playwright less of a playwright, and it doesn’t make a playwright not a playwright. It makes him or her simply A Playwright Who Also Writes Other Stuff.
It’s time that critics stop their moaning about the flight of the mythic playwright. When a single review in The New York Times can make or break a career that promised a poverty-line income to begin with, maybe the few of us still out there who love and cherish theater, should actually applaud the fact that a few lucky, talented playwrights each year get selected to write in the City of Angels. It may “pain” the critics to “lose another talented writer”, but without Hollywood’s largesse, there would be even fewer of us able to pay our rent and still write for the great American stage.