The Drama Is Coming Now

The Drama Is Coming Now: The Theater Criticism of Richard Gilman, 1961-1991

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Drama Is Coming Now
    Book Description:

    This engrossing book presents the first collection in more than three decades of one of America's finest drama critics. Richard Gilman chronicles a major period in American theater history, one that witnessed the birth or spread of Off-Broadway, regional theater, nonprofit companies, and avant-garde performance, as well as growing interest in plays by women and minorities and in world drama. His writing, however, is more than a revealing look at an era. It is criticism for the ages.Insightful, provocative, and impassioned, the articles represent the full range of Gilman's interests. There are essays, profiles, and book reviews dealing with such topics as the "new naturalism" in theater, Brecht's collected plays, and the legacy of Stanislavski. There is also a generous sampling of Gilman's comments on plays by O'Neill, Miller, Chekhov, Albee, Ibsen, Anouilh, Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Fugard, and many others.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13303-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Gordon Rogoff

    At last, here is the Richard Gilman collection for which we’ve been waiting too long. Perhaps these essays and reviews, for all their intensity, wit, and fierce integrity, had to take second place in Gilman’s mind to his lifelong passion for the plays and stories of Anton Chekhov. All who have known him have had to accept with resigned affection that we might never be so vividly alive, so sentient for Gilman as the great dramatist and storyteller who held sway over his imagination for so much of his working life. Who were we against the gentle, yet looming, vision...

  4. About Richard Gilman
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. Part I. Essays and Articles
    • The Drama Is Coming Now (1963)
      (pp. 3-16)

      The spirit of an age is known to reveal itself in everything that the age conspires to say about its engagements with itself. We have spoken about ourselves, which really means that we have spokentoourselves, more characteristically, more obliquely, more problematically, in painting and sculpture than in the other arts. Here our dialogue has been driven by a greater underground fury, frustration in apparent freedom; here we find the aggressive jest and the sense of exhausted yet tenacious conventions still to be overcome. The novel and the film are only occasionally used for their proper purposes, and when...

    • British Theater: Kinky, Arrogant, and Frankly Magnificent (1966)
      (pp. 16-23)

      One day early last March a prospective theatergoer in London (a person, let us assume, of more than routine taste and expectations) could have chosen from among the following offerings, almost all of them well acted, a few of them brilliant examples of regenerated theatrical techniques and directorial imagination: Harold Pinter’s much debated new playThe Homecoming;three variously accomplished but honest, energetic, and tough-minded dramas by relative newcomers—Frank Marcus’The Killing of Sister George,Edward Bond’sSaved,and David Halliwell’sLittle Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs;two solidly original works from the recent repertoire—Ann Jellicoe’s...

    • Growing Out of the Sixties (1971)
      (pp. 24-34)

      When I first talked to Erika Munk about the inaugural issue ofPerformance,we spoke of its having some such theme as “getting rid of the sixties.” It seemed a good idea: a new magazine, a point in time not too far past the beginning of a new decade, presumably a rare opportunity to clear the air and the decks. But the rallying cry soon struck us as more than a little bombastic. Can we ever really “get rid of” the past, especially when it’s so recent that the calendar is the only means we have of making sure there’s...

    • Broadway Critics Meet Uncle Vanya (1974)
      (pp. 35-43)

      When it was first announced early last winter, there was already a smell of success about the all-star production ofUncle VanyaMike Nichols was planning to direct. There’s always the smell of success about all-star productions, whatever the record shows; after all, the word “star” is the very proclamation of triumph andéclat.And Mike Nichols is a star too—the very embodiment of the goldenhanded director whose work in the theater and films can occasionally go a little wrong, but only in the sense that it’s then seen as “not being up to his usual standard,” which is...

    • The New German Playwrights: Franz Xaver Kroetz (1976)
      (pp. 44-56)

      “I am a theater person who mistrusts nothing as much as the theater,” Franz Xaver Kroetz told an interviewer a few years ago. The assertion brought the young German playwright into some very good company. At one time or another during their lives as dramatists, Büchner, Strindberg, Chekhov, Pirandello, and Brecht expressed sentiments of the same order; Ionesco has revealed his abiding disappointment in the life he witnessed on the stage; and Kroetz’s own brilliant contemporary, Peter Handke, has made disbelief in the ordinary practices of the theater a ruling element of his dramaturgy. It would seem as though the...

    • How the New Theatrical Directors Are Upstaging the Playwright (1977)
      (pp. 56-67)

      Shortly before his recent resignation, Joseph Papp announced plans for a thoroughgoing renovation of the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. The Beaumont would be remodeled, Papp said, with a view to making it a directors’ showcase, while the Public Theater, Papp’s other fief, would remain primarily a place for writers. This is a curious separation, but behind it is a large cultural idea—Papp’s wish “to create a bridge between the avant-garde theater and the conventional” one. At the center of this ambition, not unknown in modern theatrical history, was his intention of presenting perennial works in ways that...

    • Out Goes Absurdism—In Comes the New Naturalism (1978)
      (pp. 67-74)

      There are never any clean, decisive endings to eras in the arts, but it seems evident that the age of the “absurd” in drama is rapidly drawing to a close. Little spasmodic instances of theatrical absurdity will no doubt continue to show themselves here and there for a time, but the vigor and fertility of this movement, or genre, or, perhaps most accurately, enterprise of the great imagination are surely at a point of exhaustion.

      The great figures whose names were associated with it from the beginning, Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, continue to write but are no longer sources...

    • The New American Playwrights: Sam Shepard (1981)
      (pp. 74-90)

      Not many critics would dispute the proposition that Sam Shepard is our most interesting and exciting American playwright.

      Fewer, however, can articulate just where the interest and excitement lie. There is an extraordinarily limited and homogeneous vocabulary of critical writing about Shepard, a thin lexicon of both praise and detraction. Over and over one sees his work described as “powerful”—“brutally” or “grimly” or “oddly” powerful, but muscular beyond question. Again and again one hears him called “surrealist” or “gothic” or, a bit more infrequently, a “mythic realist” (the most colorful appellation I’ve seen, affixed to Shepard by our most...

  6. Part II. Production Criticism
    • American Drama
      (pp. 93-145)

      Thornton Wilder is probably our culture’s finest living example offaute de mieux.He is our stage philosopher, in the absence of any other, our house allegorist, the man we turn to for civilizing counterinfluences to the practices of the new barbarians. He is much loved by the reflective, the humanistic, the homespun, the quietly patriotic, the slightly disenchanted, the moderately iconoclastic, and all who crave “satisfying evenings in the theater.” All of which is not to say that he lacks real virtues; there is no denying that he is one of our most accomplished stylists, whose easy art is...

    • Brecht and German
      (pp. 147-161)

      InThe Physicists,the Swiss playwright-novelist Friedrich Dürrenmatt has added a political dimension to the traditions of the intellectual thriller. The truest criminality and madness, he suggests, lie in the modern superstate whose god is efficiency and whose rationale is the maintenance of systems for atomic annihilation. But the play is a flawed, unstable amalgam of expert stagecraft and ultimately hollow thought.

      The scene is an insane asylum where three eminent nuclear physicists are confined. One, Beutler, thinks he is Isaac Newton; another, Ernesti, believes himself to be Albert Einstein; and the third, Mobius, claims that King Solomon appears to...

    • Russian and Scandinavian
      (pp. 163-177)

      Three swallows do not make a samovar, but the Off-Broadway scene has more of a Russian flavor than usual these days. It isn’t news when someone takes another fling atThe Seagull,nor does the simultaneous presence of a trio of dramatized short stories of the master quite constitute a trend. But Ostrovsky’sThe Stormat the same time? It’s a good thing the DAR doesn’t hold its spring get-togethers in New York.

      Still, some sort of investigation seems in order. Let us begin with the fellowtravellers: Joseph Buloff is clearly a subversive type. Why otherwise, when a half-dozen of...

    • French Matters
      (pp. 179-190)

      What a distance for better or worse there is between the average play in print and on the stage. And how much greater is the distance likely to be when the stage is an Off-Broadway one. Several years ago Eric Bentley wrote, concerning the languishing state of the theater, that if Broadway tended to do trivial things well, Off-Broadway did important things badly. If anything, the situation seems to have become worse; the acting, directing, and general professional quality of the commercial theater is of a robust, if hermetic, excellence this season, while Off-Broadway exhibits one embarrassment after another. And...

    • Shakespeare to Shaw
      (pp. 192-212)

      There was nothing in the Old Vic’sMacbeththat could have prepared us for theirRomeo and Julieta week later. Quite the contrary: such was the ineptness of the first production that one would not have been surprised if the company had slipped quietly out of the country right afterward, its erstwhile reputation now shattered for good. But like a football team behind forty to nothing at the half, the troupe rallied and came back charging, the secret of the recovery clearly being a change of coaches.

      The director ofMacbethwas Michael Benthall, that ofRomeo and Juliet...

    • Beckett, Pinter, and English
      (pp. 214-238)

      Nothing is more dangerous for a moderately gifted playwright, or a moderately gifted painter or novelist for that matter, than to wish to be more profound than he is capable of being, to put his accredited talent into a larger structure than it can fill or press his thought and imagination beyond what they can accurately fashion and steadily control. He has to extend himself, of course, or he won’t know, but he also has to be prepared to discover what his limitations are. John Osborne has emphatically tested himself inLuther,and now he presumably knows, or at least...

  7. Part III. Book Reviews
    • George Steiner’s The Death of Tragedy (1961)
      (pp. 241-244)
    • Lionel Abel’s Metatheatre (1963)
      (pp. 244-250)
    • Eugène Ionesco’s Notes and Counter Notes (1964)
      (pp. 250-252)
    • Eric Bentley’s The Life of the Drama and Robert Brustein’s The Theatre of Revolt (1964)
      (pp. 252-256)
    • Herbert Blau’s The Impossible Theater (1964)
      (pp. 256-258)
    • Jerzy Grotowski’s Towards a Poor Theatre (1970)
      (pp. 259-261)
    • Martin Esslin’s The Peopled Wound: The Work of Harold Pinter (1970)
      (pp. 262-264)
    • Bertolt Brecht: Collected Plays (1971)
      (pp. 265-268)
    • The Letters of Sean O’Casey (1975)
      (pp. 268-272)
    • Henrik Ibsen: The Complete Major Prose Plays (1978)
      (pp. 272-278)
    • Margaret Brenman-Gibson’s Clifford Odets: American Playwright, The Years from 1906 to 1940 (1981)
      (pp. 279-282)
    • Arthur Miller’s Timebends: A Life (1988)
      (pp. 282-288)
  8. Part IV. Profiles and Legacies
    • Bertolt Brecht Once Again (1978)
      (pp. 291-293)

      More than twenty years after his death, Bertolt Brecht remains a peculiar case, an unsettled question. He was anexception,a man nothing like our conventional notions of the artist-hero, and therefore an impediment to any clear, orderly intellectual history of his times. No important writer of the twentieth century was more “public” than Brecht, more intricately and aggressively involved in the gritty details of social and political actuality; none was more pragmatic in his conception of the artist’s role. “I am a teacher of behavior,” he once said, and meant by that a practical guide, not a seer or...

    • Appraising Stanislavsky’s Legacy Today (1982)
      (pp. 294-298)

      In one of those apparent cultural coincidences that are actually the result of broad intellectual currents that cross national boundaries at certain moments, the year 1898 saw both the founding of the Moscow Art Theater by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, and Freud’s starting to writeThe Interpretation of Dreams,the book that formed the foundation of all his future work.

      In theTulane Drama Reviewsome years ago, John J. Sullivan, a psychologist with an interest in the theater, argued that the starting of the MAT and Freud’s book were responses and contributions to certain radically changed conditions of...

    • Jest, Satire, Irony, and Deeper Meaning: Thirty Years of Off-Broadway (1985)
      (pp. 298-305)

      My main title is that of an 1822 play by Christian Dietrich Grabbe, who may have been, spiritually, the first Off-Broadway, or better still Off-Off-Broadway dramatist. An exercise in spleen, provocation, and arrogant despair,Jest,etc., was the work of a young and nearly unknown writer seeking his place in the sun. In the course of this crowded, wayward piece, Grabbe mocks conventional theater practices and audiences, as well as reigning playwrights like Schiller and Kotzebue, has the decency to tick off his own pretensions, and excoriates the prim and obtuse theater critics of his day. Looking for a rubric...

    • Jean Genet, 1910–1986 (1986)
      (pp. 305-306)

      Jean Genet died the other day at the round age of seventy-five. I have to reach for him in memory, recover the sense of him that had been so strong when his works were coming out; his last play,The Screens,appeared in 1960, and his fiction was all done by then too. For those to whom it’s only cultural rumor, I need to say that he was as central a figure in the theater, and in consciousness generally, as anyone during the 1950s and 1960s. As late as 1970, when he appeared on the Yale campus during the Black...

    • Eric Bentley . . . and Me (1986)
      (pp. 307-311)

      A man is walking alongside me whom I recognize from a few photos I’d seen on dust jackets or in the papers. He’s taller than I’d imagined, a lot taller than was Brecht, after whom he’s vaguely (and, it occurs to me, as a sweet sort of tribute) modeled his appearance, to the extent, anyway, of wearing his hair in bangs. It’s a beautiful late summer afternoon and Commercial Street, the main drag of Provincetown, is crowded with strollers, some of them going back and forth, as in a Mexicanpaseo.A celebrity alert is in effect, and to me...

    • “A Man Misunderstood in the Midst of Fame”: Henrik Ibsen (1986)
      (pp. 312-318)

      My title comes, of course, from a letter Rilke wrote to a friend in 1910 or 1911 I think it was, after he had seen his first Ibsen play,The Wild Duck,as it happens. Rilke went on to say that Ibsen was “an entirely different person from what one hears,” and by person he surely meant, as he did by the misunderstood “man” in that letter, artist, writer. In the same letter Rilke called Ibsen “a new poet, one to whom we will go by path after path, now that we know one.” This, of course, reminds us of...

    • The Second Coming of Tennessee Williams (1911–1983) (1990)
      (pp. 318-327)

      The story is told that when André Gide was asked who was France’s greatest writer, he replied, “Victor Hugo . . . hélas.” In the same way, the answer to a question about America’s best playwright might be, “Eugene O’Neill (or, to some minds, Tennessee Williams) . . . alas.” Though both responses express sorrow, the cases are different. Gide’s point was that Hugo, a forceful but not especially profound or original writer, was so wrapped in the apparel of literary fame that he dwarfed all other reputations, whereas the point about O’Neill and Williams is that our history of...

    • Joseph Chaikin: Seeking the Words to Recapture a Past and Shape a Future (1991)
      (pp. 328-334)

      The American theater has never produced a complex theoretician or visionary mind on the order of Stanislavsky, Artaud, Brecht, or Grotowski, nor until the late sixties or early seventies any stage company with a distinctive, internally evolved style and artistic philosophy. Joseph Chaikin may not be of the stature of the prophetic Europeans I have mentioned, but his ideas and example have done as much to bring maturity to the stage here during a ten-year period as those of anyone else I know, just as his group, the Open Theatre, has come closer than any of our other companies to...

  9. Index
    (pp. 335-351)