WHO NEEDS THEATRE: Dramatic Opinions by Robert Brustein

WHO NEEDS THEATRE: Dramatic Opinions

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Reviews and essays, 1980-1986, mostly from The New Republic--and all from the critic who has consistently, for decades (Seasons of Discontent, The Culture Watch, Critical Moments), encouraged disturbing, socially involved, innovative drama--while sourly dismissing nearly all that's commercial, show-bizzy, star-oriented, or ""middlebrow."" We all need live, communal theater, says Brustein, if it is ""a theatre of danger, dreams, surprise, adventure, a theatre of the unexpected and the unknown."" Predictably, then, Brustein is scornful of such recent successes as Children of a Lesser God (""a chic compendium of every extant clichÉ about women and minority groups""), The Real Thing (""a frozen trifle with little aftertaste""), and Amadeus. He finds the Broadway musical hardly worth discussing, with little enthusiasm even for Sondheim's disappointing, ""tuneless"" efforts ""to adapt the insights of serious art to the entertainment needs of popular audiences."" And Brustein is largely unimpressed by the toney imports from Britain--with Nicholas Nickleby (""popular theatre at its best"") a major exception. Eloquent praise goes to 'night, Mother and (more convincingly) Glenngarry Glen Ross; off-Broadway, there are generous receptions for the work of Christopher Durang, Wallace Shawn, and Keith Reddin--and harsher words for the less abrasive Lanford Wilson. Brustein is enthusiastic, if not entirely uncritical, about the experiments of ""auteur"" directors (Serban, Ciulei, Brook, Wilson); while calling for more social relevance in theater, he's shrewd--as in a review of Vaclav Havel's A Private View--about the problems involved when aesthetics meet politics. Elsewhere, there are reviews of biographies (Odets, Brecht, Strindberg) and memoirs (Olivier, John Houseman), fond eulogies for Harold Clurman and Lillian Hellman, and musings on American society's ""coarsening values""--with near-obsessive reference to theater-artists (actors especially) who are seduced and corrupted by Hollywood and television. An unflashy but important, if somewhat tunnel-visioned, voice in American theater criticism: lucid, frankly partisan (faintly preachy), knowledgeable, and--within definite limitations--persuasively balanced.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1987
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown