One of the most common complaints against television journalism is that it has deteriorated into entertainment.
It is hard to believe that "The Cripple of Inishman" was written only a few years ago by a contemporary Irish playwright, Martin McDonough. The play, which has just opened the Geffen's new season looks, feels and sounds like something Lennox Robinson or Lady Gregory might have dashed off for the Abbey Theater in the early part of the century. It not only is rooted in rustic, begorah Irish culture but reveals all the makeshift qualities of play-construction that we associate with that earlier, more primitive period.
The question in regard to Lillian Hellman is not so much, What is her place in the American theater? Rather, it's, Is she even entitled to one?
Jonathan Tolins' first play, "Twilight of the Golds," caused a strong tremor when it was produced at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1993. A science-fictional comedy, it bounced off the provocative theory that sexual orientation could be biologically determined by analyzing the DNA of the fetus, and dealt with the terror of a New York Jewish family faced with the prospect that they were shortly to become the parents of a "bent" son.
John Barrymore's career can be divided into four acts.
"The Merchant of Venice" is 400 years old. The play was first entered on the register of the Stationer's Company in July 1598, along with a proviso that it shouldn't be published till the Lord Chamberlain gave his consent. And that didn't happen until 1600. It may be of some small comfort to know that, even in Shakespeare's day, artists and managers had to shear their way through red tape.
The trick in Henrik Ibsen's "Enemy of the People" -- now in a Royal National Theatre production at the Ahmanson -- is realizing that a play which is ostensibly about water contamination and environmental pollution is really about political corruption.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, with front-runners such as T.S. Eliot, Christopher Fry and Archibald Macleish, there was a concerted effort to revive language in the American theater. The buzzword was "heightened speech" and, although all of these writers essentially wrote verse, producers tried to steer clear of the word "poetry." They sensed that American theatergoers would recoil from any attempts to have anything as exotic as that foisted upon them. Just as, at around the same period, when they were risking capital on shows like "The Most Happy Fella" and the early works of Gian Carlo Menotti, they avoided the word "opera." Music-drama seemed a safer rubric.
Between about 1910 and 1939, no one in the theater made a move without consulting George Jean Nathan. In the midst of scriveners, hacks and stringers, Nathan was the real thing: an erudite theater critic with more than 20 books to his credit, a fabled association with H.L. Mencken behind him (they co-edited "the Smart Set") and a range of European-bred tastes that gave him a sophistication that few of his colleagues could rival. He not only promoted the early Eugene O'Neill, but was a close friend of the playwright's and his staunchest champion. He elucidated G.B. Shaw for the masses and created the appetite that eventually established Sean O'Casey.
Rachel Rosenthal, her bald pate gleaming withsweat and her stark features grooved like gashes in alabaster, lookslike a female Erich von Stroheim -- who, let's face it, could himselfhave been a woman in drag. Short, stubby, Teutonic, and with the kindof wracked expression one imagines Rimbaud wore after his season inhell, she could just as easily be the commandant of a Nazi death campas the most senior and compelling Performance Artist inCalifornia.
Anne Meara's "After-Play," a conversation piece now at the Canon Theater in Beverly Hills, is a kind of "Look Back in Anguish" conducted by two middle-aged couples whose lives seem to encompass all the failings of the past half century: broken families,marital spite, psychoanalytical distress.
Harriet Tubman, the fugitive-slave andabolitionist, was a kind of African-American Mata Hari.
One of the strangest anomalies in the theater is that of the successful turkey -- plays that are essentially trivial, gauche and insubstantial, but still manage to achieve a certain kind of notoriety and even commercial success."Shear Madness," which has been playing for 15 years in Boston, is such a play; so was "Kvetch," which completed a seven-year run in Los Angeles, the same city in which "Bleacher Bums" ran for 11 years."Abie's Irish Rose" racked up 2,854 performances on Broadway --although it's depth could be measured with the first digit of one's pinky.