The purpose of this book is to talk up a revolution. Where there are rumblings already, I want to cheer them on. I intend to be incendiary and subversive, maybe even un-American. I shall probably hurt some people unintentionally; there are some I want to hurt. I may as well confess right now the full extent of my animus: there are times when, confronted with the despicable behavior of people in the American theater, I feel like the lunatic Lear on the heath, wanting to "kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill.Nearly a half century later, I regularly hear the same advice: calm down, give it time, things are happening. It used to be that one could say that change in the theatre was glacial, but these days even glaciers change faster than the theatre does. And while I do not feel quite the level of hostility as Blau-Lear, I do often wonder where the divine fury is.
My friends, wanting to spare me my murderous impulses and practicing a therapy I respect and despise, tell me to calm down, give it time, things are happening. Things are happening: I want to look at them and see what's really happening. And to those who share my view of what the theater might be but defer to the sluggard drift of things, I want to say what Brecht's Galileo said to the Little Monk, temporizing in pity for those who, fixed in the old routines, scrape a living somehow -- on the premise that if whatever is is not right, it is at least unalterable -- "I can see their divine patience, but where is their divine fury?"
The New York Theatre Workshop fires its entire production staff and there is some level of outrage, but most of it is pretty muted and expressed in terms of disappointment rather than condemnation. Some of the responses to my question about anonymous reviews revealed the source of this lack of fire: a wish to avoid offending someone lest your opinions lessen your employment options.
And yet I return to Blau's words, and to the fact that it was because of those words, because of his book The Impossible Theater, that he was asked to take over Lincoln Center from Elia Kazan and Robert Whitehead in 1965. The wife of one of the members of the Lincoln Center search committee read enough of the book to recommend Blau, and the rest is history. The deader the air surrounding an art form, the more sweet is the smell of the fresh air that blows in as a squall. Blau did not mince words in his book about his disdain for Broadway:
To talk about Broadway is mainly to carp; but we must carp and carp louder, not for Broadway's sake, but because it remains the chief referent for theater in this country and, more outrageously, the chief aspiration for young actors, directors, designers, and playwrights. Bless Broadway, it will survive, if anything does. And nobody would spend his good time beating a dead cow if there weren't so many who still held it sacred, or fed up to the theeth, still buzz like dumb flies around what they tell you is a carcass.He was a revolutionary, a reformer, and he wasn't afraid to speak truth to power, to rail against what Brook called the Deadly Theatre, to thunder about the waste of talent and potential. He didn't worry about who he might offend, in fact he wanted to offend them. And the result was not that he was shunned, but rather he was invited to clean out the encrusted stalls of New York.
As Willy Loman says in Death of a Salesman, "The woods are burning!" Who will call the alarum? Who will risk raising their voice in order to draw our attention to the imminent danger?
This is a time for the Harold Clurmans and the Herbert Blaus of the theatre to be heard. They have been warning us for almost 3/4 of a century. Isn't it time to abandon our reserve and set up a howl that could be heard from one end of this country to another?