"DUMBOCRACY IN AMERICA: Studies in the Theatre of Guilt, 1987-1994" by Robert Brustein

"DUMBOCRACY IN AMERICA: Studies in the Theatre of Guilt, 1987-1994"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A clever title for what is essentially a grab-bag collection of think pieces, reviews, and profiles by the founder of the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard and drama critic for The New Republic. Brustein (Who Needs Theatre, 1987, etc.) is a sheep in wolf's clothing. He attacks causes like multiculturalism and political correctness, but hiding beneath his tough-guy, Bill Buckley exterior is a squishy, liberal heart of gold. He fears that multiculturalism in the theater is ""turning [it] into an area of entitlement rather than a place for art."" He faults message-plays (what he calls ""the theatre of guilt"") because ""the artist [is] not in a position to chastise others before exploring the darkness in his own soul."" He is a classicist in drama, preferring plays in which the characters discover that (to paraphrase Shakespeare) the fault lies in themselves, not in the stars. But his taste in the theater is fairly broad: Anyone who can find common ground between the one-woman shows of sociologist/cultural critic Anna DeVeare Smith and acerbic comedian Jackie Mason can't be all bad. Brustein is also a canny critic of what motivates both theater creators and theatergoers. Of Peter Brook's lengthy production of the Mahabharata, he writes that the director seemed intent on transforming ""well-padded bourgeois theatergoers into butt-weary acolytes of arcane Eastern mysteries."" And Brustein is capable of turning his keen eye on more mundane affairs, writing a searing account of the Clarence Thomas hearings as high-camp theater, categorizing the roles of the unwitting senators: Alan Simpson as ""Mr. Nasty Badman""; Arlen Specter as the ""remorseless small-town prosecutor""; and Joseph Biden as unable to ""even manage a coherent line of dialogue."" To-the-point essays on the role of drama in America and, indirectly, the life and health of the arts.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1994
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee