Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What???

Christopher Isherwood ends his review of "columbinus," a play the NYTW about the Columbine killings, with the following: "The phenomenon we confront in these little monsters, it seems to me, is one that neither journalism nor theater can analyze with satisfaction. It's the problem of evil. Better to leave that one to philosophers."

Leave the problem of evil to philosophers? Tell it to Shakespeare, Webster, Middleton, Ford right up to Labute. I know writing overnight reviews is difficult, and finding a tag line to finish with is particularly difficult, but come on, Christopher, at least avoid writing really, really stupid things!

[Yes, I'm back.]

10 comments:

Alison Croggon said...

Hey Scott, good to see you back!

Boggling at that quote. Children murdering other children isn't, I don't think, something that can be simply dismissed as a metaphysical problem outside human understanding. And only philosophers should worry about evil? Gosh, that way none of us need bother with anything...

Scott Walters said...

Thanks, Allison. The quote is in today's NY Times. I'll try to put the link in.

parabasis said...

And moreover... if it is outside human understanding, than philosophers are no better suited to understanding in than playwrights.

I think Isherwood has crossed over into the realm of the indefensible, personally. Let's just fire the man and be done with it. I've had enough of people writing about theater who believe that it is inadaquate to the task of being itself.

P'tit Boo said...

Welcome Back !!!

I've diversified as you can see...:)

I agree with Alison !
Hey Scott, let's philosophize !!!!

frank's wild lunch said...

That sentence struck me as odd, too. I'm glad you posted about it. I don't know the play, but along with Isherwood's dismissive, theater-hating closing sentiment, I wonder also about his use of the word "evil." It's one thing to suggest that a dramatization of Columbine High's social make-up is insufficient to understand the killings; I even think he makes an interesting point in this sentence (even if I'm not entirely convinced of its logic): "In fact, the mixture of sadism and glee that Harris and Klebold expressed as they stalked their victims contradicts the play's implicit suggestion that the toxic combo of social dysfunction and psychological frailty in American high schools was at the root of their pathology." But to trot out the word "evil" just seems cheap to me.

Is he dissatisfied that the play doesn't tell the story the way he wants it told? Is he irritated because it's bothering to explore the elements of the history (social hierarchy, etc.) that are believed to be huge contributing factors to these kinds of violent acts? Would he be more satisfied if these Harris and Klebold were branded as devils and the show got all metaphysical?

Maybe the script isn't interested in such easy answers. Maybe it's fully aware of the insufficiency of the attempts to explain away this history. Maybe that's exactly what the play's about. Of course, if Isherwood acknowledged that, he'd probably do so while snarkily suggesting he'd seen it all before in Gus Van Sant's Elephant, but still....

Wow, I'm really interested in reading this play all of a sudden! Where do I get a copy?

frank's wild lunch said...

Okay, I just realized that Alison made my main point a lot more concisely than I did. Thanks for indulging me anyway!

Joshua James said...

Scott, I just wanted to welcome you back -

MattJ said...

Great to have you back Scott. It helps to take a break doesn't it?

Isherwood's logic and intentions baffle me constantly. One can sense the pompous tone in his voice just by reading it, that's enough to turn me off... but to constantly bash theatre and try to repress it, why? The attitude is so negative, so what do you think theatre is capable of Mr. Isherwood?

Mark said...

Welcome back Scott.

John Branch said...

I think we should expect more from journalism, as well as more from theater, than Charles Isherwood's limited view allows for.

Is it possible that he's been seeing the wrong plays, spending his time in the wrong theaters? In other words, has his experience (as a critic) of what theater actually does somehow corrupted his understanding of what theater can do? I hesitate to say that, especially since I'm at work and am dashing this off, but my own experience as a critic (in another city) did little for my optimism. As for journalism, well, if you spend too much time reading what's actually published in that field, you may again lose sight of what it's capable of.

Maybe Mr. Isherwood needs a vacation, if not the enacting of parabasis's suggestion.