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April 14, 2006

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David Cote

Actually in the last year or so, they've published essays (not terribly well informed or well reasoned ones) about August Wilson's legacy and the Public's Shakespeare in the Park series.

isaac

That's true... good point... I was just searching through their archives, and for some reason under theater that's all that came up, was an eight year old article by David Edlestein...

And you are also right... those essays were capital-b BAD.

Alison Croggon

I think it's interesting to get the foreign editor to review that play. I think they're fair questions she's asking (including the unasked "why bother?") - this is a play which makes much of its authenticity, its claim on "real events". Fwiw, I mainly dislike the other plays she mentions too - Copenhagen, Via Dolorosa. Guardians, I have no idea...all she was saying was that they got the facts right. Again, given the play's premise, fair enough. Fair enough for theatre is another question. I think it illustrates the limitations of journalistic theatre.

John Branch

I think two or three different questions are mingled in this discussion. One is whether a national publication such as Slate should report on the theater at all. Another is how well they’ve done it when they have. Regarding the former question, I’d guess their view is that if something in the theater has a bearing on current affairs, the state of the nation, or the culture as a whole, then they’ll consider it; apparently this situation doesn’t arise often, in their judgment. (Someone could write a letter to the editor arguing that our theater is not so marginal as that. At least I hope we could.) From that point of view, the oddity is not Stuff Happens or August Wilson but Shakespeare in the Park. As for how well they’ve done it, I’ll take David Cote’s word for it that the writing could’ve been better in those other cases.

What’s odd about the Stuff Happens review is this: the author recognizes that “the bulk of the show [was] scripted by Hare’s imagination,” yet her main complaint is that the factual part is stuff her audience should already know. This means she’s not particularly interested in the bulk of the show. And that in turn tells me that I need to look elsewhere for another account.

George Hunka

Twenty years ago, national magazines like Time and Newsweek had regular theater columnists (Jack Kroll for Newsweek, I forget the name of the reviewer for Time); reviews and essays appeared there weekly.

At one time, then, there was a readership for national coverage of regional and New York theater, and the newsweeklies served it. I can't really blame either Time or Newsweek for phasing this coverage out, for they need to determine how best to divvy up the space in their pages, especially in the back-of-the-book, for cultural coverage that serves the readership. Apparently when the theater pages went, there was no outcry from the readership, and neither their culture editors nor Slate's are under any obligation to cover an art form just because the practitioners want the coverage.

If anything, the practitioners have to stage work that demands coverage. Recently, at least, the Rachel Corrie controversy made the front page of The Nation; when was the last time a theater-related story appeared on the front cover of a national newsmagazine? Unfortunately it was for entirely the wrong reasons, but it does say something about the irrelevance of the art to the culture.

Rob Kendt

So now they want a piece on "Stuff." I pitched a story last summer when the US premiere happened at the Mark Taper Forum and I was in LA—the premise being, Hey, Brits played these roles for a UK audience, how does it play with and for Americans? Slate passed but interestingly The Guardian bought the story. (And the show was better there, by the way, despite having slightly less persuasive leads than at the Public; the ensemble was stronger and Hare hadn't restitched the second act into an incoherent TV movie.)

Slate has poets reading their work and critics going back and forth in epistolary form. It may be "national" but it seems to have room for a lot of what the general public might consider arcana. Bottom line, it's really up to editors to make theater a priority, to make it part of the national dialogue—and not just when the subject matter is already a part of the dialogue.

The lead of June Thomas' piece gives it away, as it essentially says: "We don't go to the theater—who does?—but when we do, this is old hat for us." Fair enough, but I would only say, Welcome to the conversation, hope to see you more.

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