Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Now I'm not going to say I told you so . . . but it seems Sarah Ruhl has come home to roost . . .

I admit I'm mightily amused by the revulsion so many critics have suddenly evinced at the House that Ruhl Built (of string, no less). Whimsy? Quirk? A structureless narrative free-for-all? Suddenly everyone's realizing that this amounts to one big artistic dead end. The poster boy for the new sentiment seems to be the Village Voice's Michael Feingold, who in a recent, much-discussed pan of Molly Smith Metzler's Close Up Space lamented thusly:

I'm sad, but not from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The fall season ended with Manhattan Theatre Club's opening Molly Smith Metzler's Close Up Space, a work neatly encapsulating everything new plays do that has been making me sad for months. I bear Metzler no ill will. As with too many other recent plays, hers has some distinct virtues, but its faults outnumber them so heavily as to make theatergoing burdensome: Instead of engaging creatively with the event onstage, you expend all your energy looking for little things within it to like in compensation for its generally dismaying nature.

I can't blame Metzler for repeating the pattern. Like all playwrights, she wants to get produced. Naturally, she has turned out the sort of play our would-be serious theaters increasingly tend to produce. They, too, strive to imitate previous successes; everybody's following the Ruhls. The result, in Close Up Space, is a viscous mixture of sitcom and after-school special. It opens with patent absurdity, in an ostensibly naturalistic context, and ends in a glop of would-be tragic ironies. Reality, heightened or everyday, is the one thing it virtually never touches.

You know, I'm glad (of course) that people like Feingold are finally seeing the light about millennial playwriting, but . . . honestly, where have they all been the past five years? Couldn't they have seen this coming? I certainly did.  From way up here in the provinces!  [Correction!  I have been informed that Feingold, like me, has been critical of Ruhl from the start.  I have to start reading him more.  But for the rest of you New York peeps, however, this post still goes!  And you should start listening to Michael Feingold!]


  1. Sorry, but as I've pointed out before, Sarah Ruhl (b. 1974), like most of the playwrights you label as "Millennial", is actually a member of Generation X.

    Not sure if there are enough established Millennial playwrights out there for us to affix a particular voice to them yet.

  2. Sorry, Ian, but as I have explained to YOU, sometimes "millennial" refers not to actual birthdate - yes, I know Sarah Ruhl is an old biddy - but to artistic generation and general social timeline. If some Gen Y emerges over the next decade or so, for instance, they will be "post-millennial," not "millennial."

  3. Quibble, quibble, and more quibble. Of course the question is whether or not Ruhl and her imitators will continue to be influential.

  4. Um, sorry, but Feingold has been critical of Sarah Ruhl from the start. He panned Clean House as well as all of her other shows in NY. It's Charles Isherwood and somewhat belatedly John Lahr who have chmapioned Ruhl. Feingold was a dissenter from the start.

    Just saying...

  5. Thanks for the clarification, Lawrence. We give Feingold himself a pass then, and reserve our dismay for those who have been posting his pan with approval.

    As for you Mr. Thal - oh quibble quibble yourself!