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January 18, 2009

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August

To be fair, Isherwood has been largely favorable to Eno and Shinn, and at least appreciative of the language and wit of Harrison and Washburn (while being unfortunately patronizing towards how they work with plot and character).
Anyway, a more interesting question to me is whether or not characters with the size, power and ambiguity of a Hedda are, in fact, being written; or if what we value in playwriting has shifted.
For example, an actress with real talent would expect to play certain key roles in her life time: Juliet, Rosalind, Rosaura, Lady M, Maggie, Hedda, Josie, Medea, Blanche, Mary Tyrone, etc. Are contemporary roles being written that will belong in this canon, or have we become more interested in psychology and social forces on one end, and language and experimental form on the other?
That is a question, not a statement or a value judgement. I have a hard enough time figuring what I'm doing to have suggestions on how others should write. But it is rare that I walk away from a contemporary play running over the part again and again in my mind the way I do characters like Tom, Jamie, or the Fool; trying to find my own unique way into them. In the best cases, I usually just walk away going, huh, that was a cool part.
I'd be curious if others do have contemporary characters that gnaw at them like that, whose size and contradictions persist in the memory like that...Troy? Shelley? They're not so recent...anyway, you and Chuck got me thinking.

Sasha

Isaac, I really didn't take that as an insult towards the playwright's of today. I took it as Isherwood's way of saying that women today face the same frustrations of Hedda's day, they just are more outward about it. If anything, it's an insult to modern women and how they have become vocal about the struggle to be considered for life roles other than bored housewife.
I have to say I was shocked to hear Isherwood's modern interpretation of Hedda, as well as old reviews of Hedda's character, such as “her soul is too small even for human sin.” I read the play for the first time in undergrad. when I played Hedda in a scene study class. My gut reaction was: Wow. Finally a pre-20th century play with a female charcter that is just as strong as the males.
In fact, the comments by Isherwood and early critics irritated me so much that I started googling reviews of productionsof Hedda Gabler. Most of them were written by males and made some disapproving comment about Hedda's character or compared it to a soap opera. One reviewer whined that in the production he saw, Hedda was presented as a "disdainful, unrepentant bitch toying with other people's fates for sport." In my brief googling, there was only one review by a female. The reviewer made no negative judgements about Hedda's character, but instead talked about her feeling of emptiness.
It's really bizarre how many reviews focus on beating up Hedda. I mean, how often do we a see a review where the depression and disatisfaction of male character like Hamlet is written off as a melodramatic selfish asshole?

Jason Grote

Hey thanks for the name-check. I stopped reading the NYT arts section because it was taking years off my life, but now I have to clip and save this so I can write a Hedda Gabler adaptation that has exactly all of this stuff in it. Thanks!

I will cop to having one thing in common with Isherwood -- we both like to be entertained. Without naming names, I have to admit that I often am entertained by what entertains him and bored by what bores him. What actually annoys me about his work is the facile, middlebrow analysis and his generalizing from one example to All Of Contemporary Playwriting. It seems like some sort of poorly-thought-out gesture towards critical immortality, when really he's actually a pretty decent "consumer reports" style writer. The only time I read his pieces these days is *after* I've seen the plays, and I have to say that he's a fairly accurate gauge of entertainment level, if nothing else.

One place where he's not too far off, though -- at the risk of alienating my many dramaturg friends, there is a tendency to want to squeeze out any hint of mystery in a new play by subjecting every little story or character quirk that doesn't correspond to a cause-effect universe. I do imagine that a modern-day Ibsen would constantly have to field questions along the lines of, "but WHY is she such an asshole," or [SPOILER ALERT] "but WHY does she kill herself?"

Sasha

Before I create an argument about pre-20th century female roles and Shakespeare, and the Greeks, I should say that "pre-20th century" wasn't the right description. I suppose "canonical" would have been a better word. And, I suppose, that most of the female roles from 19th century plays in the canon don't do much for me. Novels, however, are a different story.

Parabasis

things i agree with: Jason Grote edition.

RVCBard

"...at the risk of alienating my many dramaturg friends, there is a tendency to want to squeeze out any hint of mystery in a new play by subjecting every little story or character quirk that doesn't correspond to a cause-effect universe. I do imagine that a modern-day Ibsen would constantly have to field questions along the lines of, "but WHY is she such an asshole," or [SPOILER ALERT] "but WHY does she kill herself?"

Exactly. I continue on my blog. *hint, hint*

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