ASTONISH ME: Adventures in Contemporary Theater by John Lahr

ASTONISH ME: Adventures in Contemporary Theater

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Lahr moves like a dolphin through strange seas indeed -- Teatro Libero di Roma's Orlando Furioso, for example, or Gregory's acrobatic staging of Alice in Wonderland. Clive Barnes and others have drowned there. But the value of Lahr's criticism is not only that he can make avantgarde forms and values accessible; he examines them with a view to the torture as a whole, under a rubric broad enough to compass the most conservative as well as the most radical forms. He is admittedly an apologist for novelty, but genuine imaginative novelty as opposed to, as an antidote to, the pointless, compulsive ""newness"" of technological society. His radicalism is grounded in the age-old proposition that theater is essentially spectacle, and that spectacle has a momentous power to potentiate (the mysteries) or to nullify (the space race) experience. There is an ethical conviction behind his aesthetic preferences, but it in no way biases his judgments and it certainly does not burden his style. He varies his terms to suit his cases -- Shepherd, Orton, E. Y. Harburg, Neil Simon, and also such nontheatrical extravaganzas as Agnew and Ali -- with a pure intention of discovering what is there, no more, no less. And when he insists that theater should do the same in regard to life we are inclined to agree. It is a very exhilarating business.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 1972
Publisher: Viking