30 June 2008

Don't Worry, Tracy Letts - I Got Your Back.

I stopped reading the Times review of Tracy Letts' new play, Superior Donuts (which just opened at Steppenwolf), when I got to Isherwood calling Letts' earlier plays, Bug and Killer Joe, "skillfully wrought but shallow shockers." Because that is patently bullshit. Unless we actually believe that working with "genre," incorporating horror elements and epic fight scenes, automatically negates all depth. I really hope Isherwood doesn't actually believe that, and is just being a dolt on this isolated case.

In defense of Killer Joe and Bug: These "shallow shockers" are two of the most powerful pieces of theatre I've ever seen. Yes, part of that was the action on stage, fights and horrors you never see in a theatre. That was powerful. But you know what was also powerful? The characters and their plights, the relationships, the stories, the existential horror. It wasn't about a shoot-em-up in a double wide or a psychotic locked in a motel room. It was deepest fear, desperation, terror, connection, power, pathos, not to mention a lot of (very fucked up) love. And it was amazing.

In defense of Superior Donuts (which I have neither seen nor read) and Tracy Letts: I understand that after the phenomenon of August: Osage County, Tracy Letts' Next Play is a big deal. Expectations are craaaaazy high right now, but would it kill us to judge a play on its own merits? August was a departure, a different kind of thing for him, and it sounds like Superior Donuts is another. I don't want us with our stupid expectations to stop this extraordinary playwright from getting to try shit out. Does everything he writes now have to be this Epic Great American Drama? That would be boring enough for me, but for the guy writing it? Sheesh.

Isaac wrote this weekend (fittingly titled "Horseshit Alert") about big-time directors (Spielberg, Lucas, Soderburgh) and whether or not their massive success stops them from making smaller, more personal films. Spielberg (this is what Isaac was calling horseshit on) said in Sunday's Times "All of us would like to make these little personal films that sneak into theaters under the radar. Sadly, for George and myself, and others who have enjoyed and endured great success — ‘under the radar’ has become a no-fly zone." I understand that Tracy Letts doesn't get to fly under the radar right now, but could we at least not lock him into our little boxes? Oh, he used to write shallow little plays, but then he wrote this epic work of Important Theatre, and now he must always write epic works of genius, and his plays are always dark and must continue to be. I see why Martin McDonagh ran off to make movies.


Ian Allen said...

And here's in defense of Skillfully Wroght But Shallow Shockers! If I could sit through them all day every day, I would!

brookLyn gaL said...

Isherwood is a moron. I have no idea how that man has his job.

Isaac said...

Wait, he called "Bug" SHALLOW?! Aw, that's IT. I'm takin' out my hoop earrings, hand me my Vaseline.

Anonymous said...

Note, too, how many times Ishy uses the word "lurid" whenever there's violence in a play. It's so so Tipper Gore circa 1982.

With Letts its the "lurid" ear-biting (Shock horror). Though, avers Ishy, he wasn't bothered by the violence this time. Whew! Good thing, that.

And Lucky for Sarah Kane, Edward Bond, John Webster, Sophocles (that egregious eye gouging scene!), Shakespeare, Barker, Thomas Kyd and anyone else who ever used physical violence onstage that they didn't have to premiere their play in this blighted new york landscape, with this insipid and art-killing (and now add puritanical to the list) critical establishment.

His ass WAS indeed his fortune, fuckwad.

(that's me inveighing against Ish)

Anonymous Playwright who has to Kowtow to the Ish or else he'll get Squashed like a Bug