In Dialogue

One of the differences between a blog post and an essay is that an essay is expected to be shapely and to move to some resonant conclusion. Occasionally a blog post will end resonantly, but mostly I find blogging is where I stir the kettle a little.

I’ve been thinking about dialogue lately. Not dialogue like what I write for a play, but dialogue in the sense that two or more voices seem to be either responding to each other or in a dynamic relationship with each other.

I’ve long been interested, for instance, in the dialogue between American and British playwrights. I have a theory that British playwrights picked up a certain amount of emotional turmoil in American plays and produced works which then turned around and inspired new experiments and fields of exploration for American writers. (This isn’t a phenomenon only of American and British writers, of course.) I believe, for instance, that John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger was, either consciously or unconsciously, a response to Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. I think you could run the plays in rep with the same four actors in the leads. Osborne takes Williams’s dynamic and labors to make the Stanley figure sympathetic. Does he succeed? A matter of opinion. (I think he and Tony Richardson were more successful in their film version in which Stanley actually seems to give a shit about justice for someone else.) But Osborne’s play ultimately played Broadway and so influenced American writers.

Anger also opened the door for a lot of other writers. When I interviewed David Hare for my book What Playwrights Talk About When They Talk About Writing, Hare got animated when I mentioned Osborne, saying that Osborne doesn’t get enough credit for the impact his work at the Royal Court had on the writers who came after. Hare, of course, was one of those writers, and one can list dozens of others who were influenced by his example (including Shelagh Delaney, David Storey and Trevor Griffths). Their plays, too, came over to New York and awoke many American writers to new thematic and technical possibilities. The first time I saw a David Mamet play was the opening night of American Buffalo in Chicago at the St. Nicholas Theater; I came out saying, “Wow, that’s really good American Pinter.” (Pinter and Mamet became friends and Pinter ended up directing some Mamet.) And then Tony Kushner wrote Angels in America and re-inspired some Brits. And so on and on and on. As it should be.

I think articles can be in dialogue, too. Whether intentionally or not, The New Yorker through its site and in its pages has recently published profiles of both Heidi Schreck (author/star of What the Constitution Means to Me) and Joyce Maynard (memoirist and novelist). Reading them one after the other is a stimulating experience. I recommend it.

Oh, speaking of The New Yorker, I notice that their anthology The Fifties is on sale for a discounted $4.99 for Kindle.  I wolfed it down a couple of years ago and came out of it with a more sophisticated view of that easily-caricatured decade.

About dgsweet

I write for and about theater. I spent a number of years as a resident playwright of a theater in Chicago which put up 14 of my plays, and I still think of Chicago as my primary theatrical home, though I actually live in New York. I serve on the Council of the Dramatists Guild. Between plays, I write books, most notably SOMETHING WONDERFUL RIGHT AWAY (about Second City), THE O'NEILL (about the O'Neill Center) and THE DRAMATIST'S TOOLKIT (a text on playwriting craft). I also occasionally perform a solo show called YOU ONLY SHOOT THE ONES YOU LOVE. I enjoy visiting theaters outside of New York. I can be reached at dgsweet@aol.com.
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2 Responses to In Dialogue

  1. MICHAEL NEVILLE says:

    Thanks for this. I look forward to reading The New Yorker’s “The Fifties.” One quick comment on “American Buffalo,” I saw it in the Village in NYC in the 80s and was bowled over by the physicality Al Pacino brought to it.

  2. Marshall W. Mason says:

    So glad you´re doing this, Jeff. I look forward to reading many more. MwM

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