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October 22, 2010


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Yeah, it's worth noting that THOM PAIN is 100% addressed to the audience, and Euridice is about 50%, maybe more. Euridice contains monologues that are both meant for someone else (transcripts of letters) and direct address. Thom Pain is a one man show.

If you're going to attack a concept as broad as direct address, a baseline requirement should be having the intellectual integrity to note the times you publicly praised something that contained it and wonder if that modifies your position.

Also, I think Kris actually gives Charles a little too much credit: that 4th wall allowing an intellectual response thing is total bunk. I agree with Kris that even if it is true, who says that's what you want etc., but there's a pretty major theatre pioneer and theorist some people might've heard of named... what was it?... oh that's right, Brecht... who made the point that the 4th wall allows the audience to stop thinking.

Does Isherwood hate Our Town as well?

Really, this post is silly.


Team, Kris! Ish is an ass.

How much longer do playwrights of our generation have to suffer through this fogey-ism until we get to be the fogeys ourselves and make sweeping generalizations about the form?


Is this what Ish actually gets paid for, this "Hey, you kids, get off my damn lawn!" type of old-fogeyism? Shouldn't the "paper of record" be a little more embracing of all things theatrical and not try to be the enforcer of old-guard artistic standards, like the Académie Française? Some writers use direct address a lot, some not. So what?
Among theater artists themselves, the same discussion emerges, except in reverse--NOT addressing the audience, NOT acknowledging the fact that this is play is apparently one of the worst artistic crimes. "Go write for TV!" the partisans of meta-theatrical work seem to be declaring to all who might observe a fourth wall from time to time. Do we really have to fight amongst ourselves like this? Can't all styles co-exist happily, like crayons in a Crayola box? Or does "magenta" have to gain dominance over "turquoise'?


But beyond the question of the 4th wall, which I agree is a red herring - what about the question of favoring direct address (tell) vs. show, i.e., interaction among actors? I suddenly wonder if the rise of direct address is related to our lives lived in the world of tiny screens; that we're becoming more comfortable interacting with the audience as if it were Web 2.0, where we decide who enters the drama or not, essentially removing the element of danger. In other words, I've felt the same frustration as Isherwood, thinking, as I watch direct address from a crowded stage: why are you talking to me when the person with whom you have the conflict is standing RIGHT NEXT to you?

blogless joe

Yeesh, Witless Chuck drives me nuts with yet another prescriptive directive for theater. Here was my Times response...

1) Mr. Isherwood writes: "And when characters step forward to talk to us in the middle of a play, they call attention to the artifice of the enterprise, reminding us that we're at the theater watching a writer's commentary on human experience, not the thing itself."

Ummm, isn't that often the point? And really, is the stage naturalism provided by the careful cloistering of the fourth wall any less factitious? Is it really INHERENTLY any more authentically reflective of human experience?

2) There are horrible plays which employ direct address and horrible plays which do not. The fact that the NYTimes critic is, in his own way, arguing for a certain kind of theater -- one I would contend that often resembles (bad) television -- is disturbing. Should critics really be this prescriptive? And should a critic whose beat often covers theater OFF the beaten, Broadway path, really be so disposed towards the conventional? No wonder so much theater resembles television for the elderly.

malachy walsh

"Rules" don't make plays good. It's a fallacy Isherwood is trying to convince us of. And I think it's funny that he doesn't come down on dialog driven work considering how much bad dialog we see/hear in theatre.

If something works, it works. And when it doesn't, it doesn't. Simple as that. And there's no reason to force everything into the same hole.

P. Thurmond

I think most of you are over-reacting. you can't forget a couple of things. This was a blog-post from Isherwood, not a review. It struck me as a casual reference to something on his mind, nothing more. Second, culture takes place in time. You cannot simply declare that because one cultural artifact (direct address) was popular and/or effective at one time with one group that it is therefore popular and/or effective with all groups at all times. Direct address HAS been overused lately. As for "old-fogeyism," the irony here is that Isherwood, erstwhile champion of direct address (Euridice, Thom Paine) is calling for something new, or rather, the retirement of something getting stale, and here he is being called an "old fogey." Finally, it is exceptionally rhetorically weak to claim cultural traditions as a defense of a work of art. Many dark and foul things can be defended by claiming "cultural tradition."


Hey P,

I actually think it's worth responding when the most powerful critic in America (in terms of the non-profit sector) (a) is revealing his close-mindedness... again... and (b) does so in terms that are so poorly reasoned. Taken alongside his other pronouncements and think pieces-- his Fela! piece, his Humana wrap up where he called for young playwrights to only write realistic drawing room dramedies, his terrible actor's strike piece etc.-- we see a pattern of shallow, faux-provocative musings. This-- and not his harshness-- is why he deserves so much approbrium.

The Fourth Wall is hardly new. And I basically balk at the idea that any particular device is inherently wrong/bad, particularly when the alternative held out is a more conservative theatrical device.

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