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February 16, 2012


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Rob Weinert-Kendt

Great post. And as a public service, here is Cote's famous screed. http://newyork.timeout.com/arts-culture/theater/729/hole-in-none


That's one of my favorite theater reviews ever.


This is one of the best assessments of the role of aesthetics and politics in art I have read. Thanks.

David Cote

Lot's of good points here and while I HAVE had my coffee, don't have too much to add. Isaac, I really like this term you use, "political taste." That, to me, concisely identifies what may be (partly) going on here. How we pick our ideological battles, and how hard we fight them.

I saw the same show that Claudia saw—a woman flashes her breasts in a "fuck you" gesture, but also to impress the men; Rickman calls another man a "pussy"; Rickman sleeps with the two female students; one female character is more developed than the other; Lily Rabe's character seems to have some talent for mimicky/parody, but ultimately her talent is in limbo; and Hamish Linklater's character is deemed to have literary talent ready for the shaping. Looked at from the standpoint of a well-educated middle class woman who is a writer, all this can add up to a distasteful example of a female writer selling out her own. But I didn't see it that way. Maybe Rebeck, being a woman, decided not to make Lily Rabe's character the talented undiscovered genius because she felt that would be somehow self-serving or self-indulgent? I don't know.

In the end, as I said, all the characters were depicted with virtues and vices. The play has no hero and no villain. It has no coherent social agenda or political program. That's part of what I like about it. It's messy and a little sleazy, cruel and bitchy, a little shallow even, but ultimately very honest about writing and the writer's ego.

I'm a pretty normal liberal guy, but I like art that makes me a little queasy, that goes against my "political taste." Like Wallace Shawn or Caryl Churchill. Or Dennis Potter. Not putting Rebeck or Seminar in that league, but I don't mind that she gets down in the muck a little. Of course, Claudia might simply assign less agency to Rebeck and argue that she's simply become a sponge and tool of patriarchal, phallocentric consumerist ideologies. I give her more credit than that; I think she wants to write a damn good comedy.

Jason Zinoman

Man, this is a fascinating, thought-provoking discussion carried on by lots of folks who i hold in high esteem. Gives me, gulp, hope for public discussion about theater. I liked Claudia's piece a lot, but Cote makes a really convincing argument here that resonates. I mean, he's totally right that the characters have virtues and vices. He's right there's no coherent social agenda. And god knows i am on the same page as him about liking art that makes me a little queasy. I doubt Rebeck herself could defend this play as well as Cote. But here's why i am not entirely persuaded. The elements that we are debating -- the flashing the tits, the gendered language, the making the sleeping with Lily Rabe teacher sympathetic (interesting contrast with Smash, no?) -- do not in my opinion contribute to making this more of a damn good comedy unless you see Rebeck as commenting on gender in a very self-aware way. Which she may be. If not, though, then the flashing tits hurts credibility of the play (its an UWS literary gathering, for god's sake) and the sense at the end that Rickman is, in sum, a good teacher despite his faults makes this play actually, i think, less down in the muck. What would really make us queasy would darkening the comedy at the end and becoming more pointedly political, showing the implications for that. That could still be done in a slick, entertaining way. But again, this is totally debatable and i respect Cote's take on this. And perhaps on some level, the fact the play can support different readings is to its credit.

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