Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I have a soft spot for plays -- and styles of playwriting -- that have become the silent geriatric corner-sitters of the contemporary American theater. Plays that are broken, bent, hard of hearing; plays that are a bit too earnest, or tone deaf; plays that are raised in a different era, and according to different social mores.

I'm talking plays that are, for all "modern" intents and purposes, bad plays. Plays that ought to just cede their places to younger plays, turn up their toes and die (read: move over to academia).

I have a soft spot for these plays because they let us imagine a time when people thought about people and performance completely differently. These plays take for granted none of the psychological "truths" we rely on so heavily these days: that people don't always say what they mean, for instance, and that politics are always personal.

I'm talking about Racine and Dryden, about medieval passion plays, about early twentieth century agitprop, about grand nineteenth century melodrama.

Sometimes my affection blinds me to how truly bad some of these plays are. I sit beside them (if you'll excuse the long-suffering metaphor) cooing and asking them to, yes, please, to please tell me their stories. And they croak on inaudibly in heroic couplets and breathe on my face.

Other times, though, these plays sneak up on you with moments of emotional fire, finely-wrought ambiguity, and general cojones.

I'd love to find a place for such plays in our cutting-edge, ironic hearts. I'm sure there are ways of looking to Dryden for playwriting tips, even if those tips require a bit more translation than Albee's or even Annie Baker's. These old, frumpy plays might show us ways to reinvent the worlds we create on stage, to build rules of behavior and emotion from the ground up.

What do y'all think about that dear venerable theatrical nursing home? Do you have any old favorites that still whisper in your ear as you write?


Now I'll make my pitch:

If you're looking for some reinvigorated geriatric theater this week, check out American Centaur's LORD WHAT THESE WEATHERS ARE COLD, a mash-up of two fifteenth-century cycle dramas (The Second Shepherd's Play + Joseph's Trouble with Mary, for those of you keeping score).

It'll happen at the Montgomery Gardens in Prospect Heights (104 Montgomery Street, Buzzer 6), Thursday the 16th at 8:30. Free. Followed by drink and revelry.

See for details.

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