Every Part of the Buffalo

On Sunday night, Dean, Robyn, and I watched the tepid MacBeth makeover Scotland, PA. I found it jaw-droppingly awful. As far as revisionist Shakespeare films go, I enjoyed it less than even Julie Taymor’s Rocky Horror Titus Show.

But it came back to my mind again today during a quick lunch meeting certain McCarter staff members attended with Steven Dietz, author of our upcoming Fiction. He mentioned that after a short stint writing for television (and all the big, dumb action it entails), he was so happy to start a play and just let his characters talk again. Steven Dietz loves dialogue.

My first thought was how different that is from what I’ve been playing with recently; my most recent play on the site barely gives the onstage characters any lines at all. My second thought was how much closer I am to Scotland, PA than I am to Steven Dietz. No one in that film opens their mouth to speak any iambic pentameter; when possible, it seems like the characters try to avoid speaking altogether. This is one of the biggest drawbacks to the film. The creators removed everything from MacBeth but the most bare-boned plot summary and replaced it with seventies fringe and not much else. Dead-end Pennsylvania dialogue may help make the American “Scotland” as dreary as the fair/foul/foul/fair land in the play, but it also kills any supernatural terror or mystery we get from the witches and ghosts. Scotland doth murder suspense.

I’m still drawn to minimal, unsophisticated stage dialogue, but even when my plays consist of nothing but banal “guy-talk,” such as the previously mentioned “Fraternity”, I try to put something in all parts of my work so it doesn’t collapse like the film. Playwrights from William S. to S. Dietz have created solid structures from dialogue alone. I want to use every part of the buffalo.

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