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December 01, 2006


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Nice post about the myth of originality, which I think some critics wrap themselves in as a sort of purist pose or elitist innoculant. Like you, I haven't heard the podcast, but to expect every play you see to somehow fundamentally advance the art of the drama is completely untenable. If the same standard were held to movies or pop music, critics for those forms would be considered even more irrelevant than they already are. By the same token, seeing 100 to 200 plays a year might deaden the palate so strongly that the critic needs a jumpstart to jaded tastes. I certainly can empathize with irritation with derivative styles or genres. But as a critic and lover of theater, I'm much more interested in helping to foster a tradition and bolster the craft of playwriting, than chase after what I randomly and decadently might call novelty.


Your post brings up a tangential question: if a critic finds a work to be derivative of a more well-known work, does it matter that the author can pipe up and say he's never read the more well-known work? I ask this because a) I'm rarely impressed when someone claims ignorance as a defense of his work, and b) it kinda throws out the relevance of any sort of qualification whatsoever. I'd guess that Isherwood wouldn't back off of his position that Pig Farm is derivative of McDonagh just because Kotis can say he's never read him (I have no opinion on the McDonagh/Pig Farm question, fyi). One could argue one writer's inferiority based on how he accesses the zeitgeist or pop culture's attitude towards violence or what-have-you, or the mere fact that one did that style first, or better, or more influentially, etc. It may not be derivative in a direct sense, but it doesn't necessarily render Isherwood's comparison irrelevant, either. I do think it's a trap to build a whole review on such a qualification, especially since a lot of people have argued how (consciously) derivative McDonagh is, and on and on, thus reinforcing the ideas of your post, but still....

Jason Grote

Hey, cool post - sorry for not responding earlier, but I was in Slovenia and using my limited internet time for email and Skype.

There's more to the podcast than just the one quote I chose to engage with, and I actually would like to plug ATW's audio and video podcasts, which can be found easily by typing "American Theater Wing" into iTunes or Google. The stuff they cover is very mainstream, but it's a start.

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