Monday, April 13, 2009

Just Plain Full of It

I try not to write out of knee-jerk anger or anything and try to be reasonable, but I just gotta say this: JT Rogers is full of shit. Condescending, obnoxious and just plain utterly fucking wrong about his entire premise. I've met the fella here and there and like him. I don't really know his work, but his work, which has been praised in many cases, but is also produced with some regularity. And what does he write? Problem plays.

The premise of his piece is that this work could never be produced in the U.S. because we're just a bunch of entertainment-loving phillistines who would never ever want to watch a play with educational value about a different culture or a complicated historical event and certainly not something about a region of the world that's currently an issue in politics or that might take a risky stand on American politics. We just want to laugh and laugh about nothing all the time. What a bunch of morons. No wonder he had to go to London, because controversial plays are just lapped up over there.

Really, JT? Really? It's bullshit.

Right from the start, you can see where he's totally wrong:

I tell them I'm contributing to a 12-play cycle of works set against seminal events in Afghan history. I tell them the cycle will be performed by a cast of 20 and run in rep over three nights, augmented by a film festival and lecture series.

I want you to find me the American theatre that's doing 12-play cycles augmented by a film festival. Go ahead. I can wait. Oh, but also make sure you add that the twelve plays need a company of 20 on hand. Good luck.

[whistles...makes a sock drawer...]

Any luck? Well, I'll be. It just must be because we're a bunch of anti-intellectuals jerks. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because it would be prohibitively expensive. Especially right now when theatres are paring back. That might just maybe have something to do with it.

But beyond that, his entire tone and premise is so screwed. We produce theatre that has a political point of view, that educates and debates. Fuck, we produce a goddamn Shaw Festival! Many of them! That guy's entirely about debate and discussion. What's hard here is a great big honking play. It's got nothing to do with the Times. I'm happy to blame the NY Times for a lot of things, but this isn't one of them. In fact, as you might have noticed, all of the reviews I posted, including some laudatory ones for JT himself, are from the New York Times. That ain't it.

But my biggest problem is the contempt. We've bred such contempt for our audiences and it poisons our work. Not to keep harping on it, but it's part of the point of all of this. We look down our nose at the people filling our seats and then we wonder why they don't want to come back. Of course, audiences don't want to be preached at, but they're always happy to learn something, something new. They can be confronted and challenged, but not browbeaten. No one likes brow beating. But we've created this world that drips with utter disdain for the "plebes" who come to the shows. It's like we're chefs, turning out nutrious meals, made up entirely of steamed vegetables with no seasonings, and then getting haughty when someone says it's bland. In a way he's right: people do want to be entertained. But this false choice between entertainment and "good" is killing us. All of us.

I'd think that JT, as a fairly experienced playwright and seemingly bright fella, would get this. Maybe not. So, dude, really: if you wrote your play so it can be performed by 4 actors, it'll get produced here in the U.S. You won't even have to cast Michael Jackson. And, FYI, putting Michael Jackson in a play...a bad idea. Even from a marketing standpoint. I'm just saying.

*I forgot the all-important via, but that shouldn't be a surprise.

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