Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Exile! Exile!!!

So I'm reading the latest American Theatre (January 2008) -- you know, American Theatre the magazine published by the Theatre Communications Group, whose mission is to "strengthen, nurture and promote the professional not-for-profit American theatre" through its "400 theatre members in 47 states." The TCG, who is devoted to representing the regional theatre movement. That TCG. And I'm reading the cover article by Carol Rocamora called "Albee Sizes Up the Dark Vast," about Albee's 80th birthday and all the productions that are scheduled to open. Rocamora, whose bio says she "translated Chekhov's complete dramatic works," precedes her interview of Albee with a thumbnail of his career. She writes:

Albee earned his second Pulitzer for Seascape in 1975, but after the critical failure of The Lady from Dubuque in 1980, he descended into what [Mel] Gussow called (with considerable understatement) a "down period" that would last a decade. Despite numerous setbacks, both professional and personal, in the early '80s he launched what would become a distinguished 15-year teaching career at the University of Houston, where that city's Alley Theatre also gave him a home.
Now get this: "His years of 'critical exile' (as Albee's friend, director Michael Wilson, refers to those years) ended in a triumphant comeback with Three Tall Women in 1994, which earned him a third Pulitzer..." In case we hadn't quite picked up the phrase, Rocamora repeats it again: "Under James Houghton's artistic direction, Signature hosted an Albee season in 1993-4 (Marriage Plays, Counting the Ways, Listening, The Sandbox, Finding the Sun), giving the playwright a new home after a decade of critical exile from New York." [italics mine, except play titles, obvi0ously.]

I turned the magazine over to make sure I was still reading American Theatre. Yup, and it still said Theatre Communications Group underneath the title. So let me get this straight: according to American Theatre, which presumably is still editing its writers' work and giving editorial approval for production, having a 15-year home with the Alley Theatre, one of the oldest (60 years!) and most storied regional theatres in the nation, is critical exile? And having another TCG member who just happens to be in NY do a season devoted to Albee is coming back from critical exile?

I would expect such NY-philia from the NY Times, the Village Voice, Variety, or Show Business. But American Theatre ought to know better. And that Michael Wilson should coin that insulting phrase -- Michael Wilson who was the Associate Artistic Director at the Alley Theatre from 1990-1998, and who is the artistic director of the Hartford Stage, which I assume is also critical exile (but getting warmer, since Hartford is closer to NYC than Houston) , and who has made his career in the regional theatres of this nation -- well, it is breathtakingly insulting. It doesn't surprise me that Rocamora's expertise is translating Chekhov, because the portrayal of anyplace west of the Hudson as exile is a remnant of the 19th century.

As long as theatre people allow this nonsense to continue, we will never have a regional theatre of any substance. The regional theatre will continue to play the role Triple-A baseball teams play to the major leagues: low cost development sites. And that is NOT what the regional theatre set out to become when Nina Vance at the Alley Theatre, Margo Jones at Theatre 47 in Dallas, and Zelda Fichlander at the Arena Theatre brought it into being. And it is NOT what American theatre needs. And it should NOT go unnoticed when the TCG dishonors its members by printing such drivel.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Michael Wilson is a pretentious ass.

And I don't think Albee would say he was in critical exile either.

While on the subject of Albee, what do you think of the big rewrites of Zoo Story?