By Isaac Butler
Up at the Finanical Times (and not behind their paywall) Matt Trueman has a piece discussing the cultural exchange of plays between the United States and Great Britain, with a focus on what plays make it to the respective other sides of the pond and what plays don't and why. It's an interesting topic that could provide some fascinating fuel for thought, were the article itself not riddled with errors:
(1) "...both Doubt and Proof won Pulitzer Prizes, America’s most prestigious award for new plays So too did Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, but only after its UK premiere at the Royal Court led to an acclaimed Broadway revival. The original New York production went largely unnoticed."
Nope. This is 100% untrue. Clybourne Park was the rare show that received its New York debut and its "second production" (in DC) simultaneously and was a huge hit (both critically and commerically) in both cities. It had other productions planned all over the place by the time it closed. It received the Putlitzer the first year it was eligible. I'm pretty sure that the folks behind the Broadway production would be surprised to learn that the Royal Court production somehow "led" to their production as well.
(2) "Haydon believes [Bruce Norris'] Purple Heart struggled in the US because the Vietnam war remains too loaded for audiences."
This isn't proveable, so it's hard to argue one way or another, but it is worth saying that Norris was not a well known playwright outside of Chicago until 2006, and that, particularly in the 70s and 80s, there were many, many plays where the Vietnam war figured prominently. One of these, David Rabe's "Streamers," was revived a few years ago. I'd hazard a guess that the subject matter, far from seeming "too loaded" is actually viewed as passé.
(3) "Katori Hall has argued that The Mountaintop, an Olivier award winner in London, struggled on Broadway because it dared to criticise Martin Luther King. "
I know that Katori thinks this, and I like her work and think that she is a geniune talent, one that I've publicly defended from unfair treatment in the press. But it is simply not true that Mountaintop struggled on Broadway because it criticized MLK Jr. For one thing, it didn't struggle on Broadway. It was a hit with a limited run that is now playing all over the country in regional theaters, where my guess is it will be a mainstay for years to come. For another, if you actually read the critical responses to the play, no one criticizes the play on these grounds. If anything, critics find the play too sentimental w/r/t its subject.
(4) "Challenging the consensus becomes doubly problematic if you’re British, as Lucy Prebble discovered when Enron’s Broadway transfer bombed, losing a reported $4m."
I'm really not sure what "challening the consensus" means in this case when you're talking about a play opening for largely left wing audiences in New York well after Enron's collapse, but either way, a cursory view of the (mixed-to-positive) reviews Enron received shows this isn't the case.
(5) "`Americans are still able to take their national story seriously in a way that we’re not,' says Campbell, referencing a tradition stretching from Sam Shepard and Tony Kushner. There are exceptions; Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem and Simon Stephens’s Harper Regan, both acclaimed on Broadway in recent years."
Harper Regan didn't play on Broadway and was not critically acclaimed.
(6) Cock was not renamed Cockfight Play. It was called that in certain print venues because of the standards and practices of those newspapers. Everywhere else (Broadway.com for ex) it retained its original title.
Looking at these errors, many of which are easily caught with a cursory google search, I'm left noticing that there's a bit of a pattern here. With the exception of #5, each one goes towards reinforcing this idea that American Theatre is a fundamentally conservative beast where timid audiences (And artistic directors) dont' want to program work that talks about the hard truths, unlike their brave, stalwart contemporaries across the pond. It's too bad that the article uncritically passes along quotes from sources -- and doubly too bad that British artists are so blinkered that they give the quotes they do-- as the subject is a rich and interesting one.