Don't let the headline and sub-headline of this Guardian online piece fool you, Emma Adams has a good point to make at the end:
isn't theatre about giving people a smashing night out? Shouldn't writers entertain? Is it possible to do that when you're writing a dark-as-night comedy about – among other things – a disgraced home economics teacher who survives by selling her body and her memories of the meals she once cooked, when food was not scarce? After a lot of soul-searching, I realised the answer is yes. The bar is not lower when we make political work, it is higher. Entertainment and engagement is my aim for Ugly. As for finding hope in all of this? I believe that lies with the audience. One of the things I love about working with Red Ladder theatre company is that their shows always have a forum for discussion after the performance. During these, I hope people will feel inspired to share their thoughts. I also hope that some will feel inspired enough to take those thoughts back into their lives and turn them into action. But, I have no interest in telling people what to do. For me, the show has done its job if it gets people thinking and discussing.
The reason why the one two headline-sub punch is so bad is that it sets up an opposition between entertainment and political content that Adams rejects. The most successful works of political art also function as quality pieces of entertainment (or are very short). Catastrophe, for example, is not only one of Beckett's most overtly political plays, it's also (a) ten minutes long and (b) entertaining. The director in it is deliberately charismatic, in much the same way that the lead torturer in Pinter's One For The Road is one of the more obviously compelling characters Pinter ever wrote. Angels in America is many things, but one of them is funny. Kushner's sense of humor is as important to that play's success as his interrelations of gender, race and sexual politics.
One of the reasons why I've recently gotten into mysteries and thrillers in both book and cinema form is that they seem to be the one area where authors can deliberately insert their own politics and get away with it. Why? Generally because the story is good enough to support it. The most common way to do this is to set the story in a milieu the author wants to examine semi-journalistically and then have the detective speak to people in that world and have them opine on their problems. This device is used in everything from Desolation Jones to almost every episode of The Wire to Prime Suspect. Walter Mosely may be the most overtly political living American fiction writer I read; he gets away with things in his novels that no theatre critic would ever accept in terms of sermonizing. He gets away with it in the same way David Simon gets away with it-- by keeping the story fascinating, the characters compelling and keeping the politics integral to both. The reason why you'll put up with EZ Rollins opining on everything from how poverty taught him more than college to gender relations is because you like being in EZ's head and you want to know what's going to happen next. Henning Mankell does the same thing. On the right, both Michael Crichton and James Ellroy do the same thing.
There's no reason you can't give the audience a thrilling ride and some deeper politics at the same time. I would argue that writers interested in exploring political issues on stage should not forget that Angels in America and Cloud 9 are both very funny and pleasurable to watch, full of delightful invention and interesting plots. Those aspects are as integral to their missions as all the Serious Politics.