Tboy got this last week, between his afternoon in Tijuana and his seafood-taco excursion at Cabrillo national monument. But like he said, he was on vacation, so it's had to sit:
"The remarks by Paul Donnelly on your site concerning Kit Marlowe were interesting. In terms of directors and producers altering the work of playwrights, there is, however, one part of the dynamic that doesn't seem to have gotten much, if any, attention.
"That is the pressure from audiences -- and, particularly, critics -- to turn in an evening as compact, as brisk, and as brief as possible. One of the most striking trends that i've observed over the thirty plus years I have been doing and seeing theatre is how the attention span of audiences and critics has contracted."
Sez tboy: Well, yeah. TV and movies will do that to you.
"When I began, if I play was long (and plays from the middle of the last century and back tend to be much longer than your average play today), you knew you would be in the theater for as long as it would take to get through the play. Now, unless it is Lear or Hamlet or a big O'Neill, people just won't sit still for a complete reading of a text, expect you to cut it down to an acceptable size, and make a lot of noise if you do not.
Often, yes. But not always. More on which in a minute
"My working model is: If it ends between 10:30 and 10:45, you are safe; if it ends between 10:45 and 11:00, you better make sure it is rapidly paced; if it nears or passes 11, it better be the best thing you've done in three years, or else you will be reamed so mercilessly that you won' be able to sit down for a month. ...
You don't think that's a bit oversimplistic?
"You would probably be shocked at how much of Night of the Iguana ended up crossed out of our scripts this summer in order to keep us from either 1) coming down at 11:20 or 2) racing through the lyrical passages so quickly that some of the quality of those passages would have been lost. I hope this admission does not send mr. paul and his villagers over to Clark St. to torch us, and I recall that our Streetcar in 1994 did end at 11:20, and I wonder if we could get away with that today...that is how pronounced this trend has become, particularly in recent years.
"It is my understanding that there were time pressures on the Studio Secondstage production of Kit Marlowe, and i think this because Mike Chamberlin, knowing I had seen the New York production at the Public, asked me if I remembered how long it had been, and told me how unacceptably long had been a designer run of his production. I don't know if all of the alterations to which the writer objected had to do with these efforts to bring the show in at a reasonable time, but I believe many did.
I'm willing to believe all of that. Fact is, though, that if you *do* come at it with some smarts and some energy, all that calculus goes out the window. The National's Mourning Becomes Electra clocked in at 4 hours plus. And what about His Dark Materials? The Broadway run of Iceman went on all night. I saw Redgrave in Long Day's Journey and the Globe's Richard II and Edward II last summer, too -- and they were all damn near endless. And I was pretty much riveted.
"As a current example of what I am talking about, I watched opening night at the Lansburgh as Ed Gero came out and planted himself center stage at about 10:50, and began an unhurried and, it seems, uncut speech, basically expository and much of it information that the audience already had. Like the rest of the production, his approach seemed to be saying, "We are doing this play completely and we are not rushing through it" -- and i sat there thinking, nobody will stand for that kind of approach these days. And, indeed, our critics made clear that they certainly will not."
No, what critics won't stand for is the length without the spark. There was a lot to like about Henry, but it was missing something. You can't always put your finger on what it is -- energy, inspiration, pacing, texture? -- but you know when the alchemy isn't there. My favorite example is Strange Interlude. Flawed play, long evening, not entirely consistent performances across the cast, but some terrific lead turns -- and a smart approach that kept me hooked right up until the end.
"Basically, I am asking, when was the last time that you read a review in which a critic, familiar with a great work of the theatre, took a company to task for cutting too much, or unwisely, or for cutting at all? I can't think of an example (except for John Simon), although i am sure someone who wants to argue with me can point to examples. I can think of many reviews in which the explicit or implicit message was, "this play is too long" and I suggest that that is the much more frequent message. And that, if there is a problem, that is part of it."
That's probably fair. We could make a point of complaining in the other direction, if you like... [wicked grin]
Now, are you going to scold me like you scolded the dude who complained about blind items and such? I assume the free paper for which you work is the new Post-owned one they pass out in the Metro, which I understand pays its stringers better than does City Paper. (tee, hee.)
Oh, bite me.