Monday, January 11, 2010

Oh, boy, I said - right again

A new post from Terry Teachout backs up with data what I've been saying on this blog for years now - that we need more masterpieces to balance our commitment to new plays. Teachout does a little data-mining to discover the ten plays most often produced over the past decade. And the list he comes up with is not so depressing - it's filled with shows like Doubt and Wit and I Am My Own Wife, smart and affecting pieces of stagecraft, all. Emily Glassberg Sands, meanwhile, will be dismayed to discover that of the top ten plays (or eleven, there's one tie) most often produced in America, a full four are by women. Only one is by a Latino, however, and only two are by African-Americans. (So it may be time for the diversity brigade to change horses!)

The real shocker of Teachout's little "study," however, is that almost every classic author aside from Shakespeare is disappearing from the stage. The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, made Teachout's Top 10, but in the longer list of productions from which he drew, he found only Oscar Wilde, Thornton Wilder, Noel Coward, and Molière were also regularly performed. That means, as Teachout puts it,

No Samuel Beckett, no Bertolt Brecht, no Anton Chekhov, no Georges Feydeau, no Henrik Ibsen, no William Inge, no Eugène Ionesco, no Arthur Miller, no Clifford Odets, no Eugene O'Neill, no George Bernard Shaw, no Aristophanes or Euripides or Sophocles, no Rodgers and Hammerstein or Frank Loesser or Lerner and Loewe . . . no history, in other words.

The conclusion couldn't be starker - those who insist that an obsession with the past is stifling our theatre (the whole "no more masterpieces" crowd) have things precisely backward. If theatre is declining, it is most likely because we're not seeing our masterpieces anymore.

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