Playwrights I Might Like

Longtime readers may assume that I’ve taken the advice of Quarterflash and hardened my heart—is there nothing that can satisfy me theatrically? Just look at this list of playwrights who have disappointed me in the year 2006 alone:

Playwrights I Might Like: Neil LaBute (crossed out), Adam Rapp (crossed out), Martin McDonagh (crossed out), and Tracy Letts.

Mr. Letts emerges as the only survivor after I saw a very well-crafted production of Killer Joe by Philadelphia’s Theatre Exile in May. My favorite part of the production was the incessant television noise. Few scenes went without the ambiance of wrestling commentary or the sound of letters lighting up on the Wheel of Fortune board. It was maddeningly distracting, but it fit the characters, fit the situation, and made for an excellent production design.

But what about the playwriting? There wasn’t anything very new or unexpected about Killer Joe. In fact, when Letts played the incest card I groaned out loud. But the play worked; it held my interest! Maybe that’s not a ringing endorsement, but it doesn’t get him crossed off the list.

Another playwright who avoids condemnation is the author of the latest Steppenblog entry: playwright Marisa Wegrzyn, my favorite Wu-Tang member. Her play The Butcher of Baraboo will be staged by Steppenwolf later this summer.

Through classified channels I had the opportunity to read one of Wegrzyn’s plays a few years back. It was breathlessly plotted; every five minutes brought another dreadful twist that all but begged for a horror-movie, “DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT!” type of audience. But these shocks were lost to nonsense; from the beginning Wegrzyn was pulling audacious, unusual stunts that shredded her play of any meaning.

But did Tracy Letts give me any meaning? I couldn’t say—the TV was on. I will say that anyone that is willing to be as daring a playwright as Wegrzyn doesn’t get crossed off the list.

Bonus Procrastination! You can see a snippet of the Egypt Play in the picture above. How many pages have I written in the month and a half since that photo was taken? Seven. And they’re small pages….

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