Since Alison and p'tit boo are double-teaming me over different issues, I think it might be best for me to address them separately, rather than in one long post. First, let me apologize to Alison for misspelling her name -- and I can't guarantee it won't happen again, much like I sometimes accidently type "Issac" instead of Isaac. It isn't meant as an insult.
So what do I really mean, Alison wants to know -- what specific plays am I talking about? While I tend to resist getting down to those sort of specifics, not because I prefer obscurity but because the focus tends to shift from general ideas to arguing about whether Play X is good or not, I'll take a stab.
Someone asked me about Brecht. Let's compare a Brecht play like, say, Good Woman of Setzuan to a Wedekind play like Spring's Awakening. Now, I like both of these plays, and have taught both in the past -- this is not about quality. To my mind, Brecht's relationship to his audience in Good Woman is much more embracing than Wedekind's. It is clear from reading Brecht's play that he believe's in the audience's ability to confront the problem of goodness in a capitalist society that rewards brutality -- if for no other reason than that the play ends with an appeal to them: Shen Te cries out, "Help!" If he did not believe that those in the audience were capable of hearing and responding to that cry, I don't think he would have had her make it. Wedekind, on the other hand, while also wishing to confront an injustice (the destructiveness of repressive attitudes toward sex), does so in a way that, to me, clearly implies he has no faith that his audience is capable of seeing the problem and changing it. His approach, it seems to me, is pure provocation -- scenes meant to leave the audience shaken, but not inspired to change. Both plays are dynamic, even brilliant, but it seems to me that the relationship with the playwright in both is very different. Brecht's play leads to discussion; Wedekind's, to guilt and anger.
Even playwrights change over the course of a career. It seems to me that Brecht's relationship to the audience in Threepenny Opera is different, more Wedekindian, than his relationship in Good Woman or Galileo.
[It is my fervent hope that my comments box will not be filled with people telling me "I never liked Good Woman as much as I liked Mother Courage blah blah blah." That's a different conversation.]
Allison asks me about Offending the Audience, and whether I think this displays hostility toward the audience. Sure it does -- Handke is pretty upfront about it with his title. That said, I think it is pretty tame stuff -- the buttons being pushed are fairly arcane, and once the first performance occurs, and people are tipped off as to what to expect, it's power to provoke is rather small. My opinion is that Handke would have been better off writing an essay rather than a play. Offending the Audience wouldn't be a top example of a playwright attacking.
What about something like Richard Foreman? I am not a big Foreman fan myself, but I find a couple things he does to be very admirable. First, he writes extensively about his plays, and publishes them in the program to help the audience grasp his difficult material -- that shows respect for the audience. In addition, he seems to have made a real effort to create a community around his shows. I don't get the feeling that he as a playwright feels hostility toward those in his audience, and by not talking down to them while at the same time helping them to reach further than they perhaps thought possible -- that seems like respect to me.
As far as the phrase "you are with the audience, or against it," the Bushite echo is unintentional. [A disclaimer: While I'm certain that the positions that I take probably have you all thinking I am a Bushie, you'd be wrong. I'm probably as radical as Alison and p'tit boo. My leftism tends to be based on moral reasoning about the way people should treat each other, and not materialist reasons.] As I said in another response: "When I use "for or against," I do not use it in the same way Bush does. His means: "You either agree with us, or you're our enemy." I use "for" to mean: "Do you, as an artist, respect us as people who share your humanity? Do you consider us as intelligent as you are? Are sensitive? We may disagree, or I may not have thought of things the way you have -- but do you respect my ability to think and to feel, and do you respect my basic right to disagree?" So many (maybe not you) write, "sure I respect them all," but when the rubber meets the road, the attitude is "these people are superficial, exploitative, and unethical human beings," and that's where I flinch. I disagree with many of the actions and attitudes of the middle class, but I think that communication might happen, and as a result change might happen, if we meet each other in mutual respect.
I know I am talking about something that is hard to pin down: attitude. And ultimately I can only infer Wedekind's attitude from his writing, which is, of course, open to interpretation.
I am concerned for our world, which is becoming more and more polarized. This is the Bushie Effect, which has created a situation where people just stake out a position and shoot at each other. Democracy cannot thrive in such an atmosphere. Neither can theatre.
P.S. I hope, when I have any time, to read some Adorno.