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A CurtainUp Review
New Downtown Now:
An Anthology of New Theater from Downtown New York
by Les Gutman
Introductory material in anthologies of new plays tends to be more irritating than enlightening. Seeking to harvest some order out of chaos, this "guidance" usually ends up over-defining and over-analyzing its subject matter. These are the faults of this anthology, which includes two prefaces (one by each editor) and a particularly decompositional introduction by Jeffrey M. Jones. This front matter should not be permitted to obscure the merits of taking a look at the plays selected for inclusion; as a group, they present a nice snapshot of what's considered new and good at the moment.
Does this collection represent the product of contemporary "downtown" theater in New York circa 2006? No, but yes.
On the one hand, its focus is simultaneously too narrow and too broad. Because it is based largely on the artistic orbits of its two editors, Mac Wellman and Young Jean Lee (which coïncidentally largely overlap), it overemphasizes their connections and ignores other fresh new work that happens to rely on other networks. And yet it also manages to include work that can't fairly claim downtown New York as its provenance, either geographically or in broader, organic terms. On the other hand, to the extent Mr. Wellman and Ms. Lee are simply trying to make a case for theater they define as new -- derivitive of neither the conventional well-made play nor the work of the old guard of the avant garde (which of course includes Wellman) -- they've hit a bulls-eye.
CurtainUp has reviewed a fair percentage of these plays in their New York premieres. Those reviews are linked in the list below. It would be nice to say that these plays represent the future of theater, but it's unlikely they do. They reveal, virtually without exception, work which is long on formula and short on substance. They seem to suggest a belief that the job of a playwright is to throw out a situation, and leave it to the audience to decide what to make of it. There is much to be said for plays which leave open room for thought, but this ought not to releive the writer of the task of thinking his or her thoughts through to some conclusion.
Here's a smattering of quotes from those shows we've reviewed, which point up what's wrong with most of them: "ill-focused path that leads nowhere" (Demon Baby), "text is missing enough coherence to give these elements [the cast and production team] sense" (Apparition), "more of a frolic than a play: its scenes can be quite entertaining but don't lead anywhere" (Appeal) and "in the end the story simply loops around on itself" (Vomit Talk of Ghosts).
Plays of enduring value, no matter how experimental in form, require intellectual integrity. That seems the great failing here. What we are left with, then, is a book that offers students, producers and other interested readers with a snapshot but not a great deal of satisfaction.
LIST OF PLAYS IN ANTHOLOGY INCLUDING LINKS TO REVIEWS
Interim By Barbara Cassidy
Tragedy: A Tragedy By Will Eno
Nine Come By Elana Greenfield
Sachiko By Madelyn Kent
Enoshima Island By Madelyn Kent
The Appeal By Young Jean Lee
The Vomit Talk Of Ghosts By Kevin Oakes
Ajax (Por Nobody) By Alice Tuan
Apparition: An Uneasy Play Of The Underknown By Anne Washburn
Demon Baby By Erin Courtney
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by our editor.
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