Thursday, January 15, 2009

Is there such a thing as a good script?

In December, Henry Akona directed a reading of my play Rudolf II at the Bohemian National Hall.  It went really well, I felt.  I had directed another of play of mine, Golem Stories, a few weeks before, and done some staging.  Henry topped that staging by writing a full script, including stage directions he had created, for this particular reading.  The actors followed his stage directions (fortunately we has an extraordinarily talented cast), and everything came off very well.

I was a genius!

I was having a conversation with a man on the subway yesterday about Havel (he recognized me from a theater conference).  He had only seen one show, he told me.  He couldn't remember which one.  All he could remember was, it wasn't very good.  Which production?  I asked him.  What was the direction like, or the actors?  He couldn't remember.  But a good play shines through, he told me.

Havel is a hack!

Even Havel can't tell.  I was watching a Havel play (One I quite like) with Havel, a few years ago, and Havel turned to me and asked "Do you think this is a good play?"  It was, I told him.  But watching that production, it was hard to tell.

I have seen Ibsen's A Doll house more times than I can remember.  The first time was in college: I hated it.  The second time, soon after: I was confirmed, I hated it again.  Then  a few times more...a friend was in it, then another friend, then a social obligation...I felt like I was cursed by it.  One friend's show was surprising.  Leigh Armor (I haven't seen her for years) was in a production that didn't seem half bad at the tiny and now long defunct Westside Repertory Theater.  Not that bad, I told myself in surprise.  Maybe this isn't a totally awful play.  Maybe the productions have just been bad.

Then, I saw Mabou Mines' Dollhouse.  It was one of the most moving and intelligent pieces of theater that I've ever seen.  It will soon be revived at St. Ann's Warehouse.  See it, see it, see it.

Did Ibsen transform his play from dross into gold?

Scripts, I have often heard, are not written to be read, they are written to be performed.  If you read a Sarah Kane play, like, say, the much lauded Blasted, you won't see the dark poetry within, unless it is staged.  I saw it.  I wasn't so fond of the script, reading it, but what an impressive production.

Was I wrong about the script?  Or was a very talented director (Sarah Benson) responsible for selling a mediocre product?

I have seen more Shakespeare than I can possibly count.  Let's say 100 productions.  I have really enjoyed about five or six.  Is Shakespeare overrated?

I do think a great production can't exist without at least a very good script.  But a great script can lead to a horrible production.  And bad script can look halfway decent with a good production, just like halfway decent script can look very good.  So is there any way to judge?  Is good and bad a judgement that can be made in such a collaborative medium.

Theoretically, yes, though I have yet to see a critic or an audience member who is not at least somewhat influenced by the quality of the production.  With classics, it is easier to separate, because critics at least have seen may versions.  But for a new play - how does one judge?

Was my Rudolf II a good script, or did Henry just do a good job directing?  Was it just a good job directing, or did we have excellent actors?

All of the above, I hope, in this case.  But I don't know if there's any way to know, for sure.

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