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The Question of Eloquence

April 03, 1988

Having seen two of his plays, I am quite prepared to believe that Steven Dietz may yet turn into a playwright--but having read his fatuous crie-de-coeur for "eloquence," I dread to think what kind of a playwright!

It is a little ludicrous to cry for a return to language when some of the leading writers of the day--Rabe, Mamet, Shepard, Stoppard, Churchill--amply demonstrate the supremacy of language in all their major works.

Or does Dietz believe that cunningly constructed dialogue without explicit thematic declarations is not "using language"? If writers wish "to say what they think about the world" using explicit literary means, let them write editorials rather than plays.

A play is a construct in which image, action and language combine to express theme. To call for a play in which "theme" is explicitly expressed is to call for a drama that thankfully perished 80 to a 100 years ago.

Dietz contends that we don't go to the theater to "see emotion" but rather to see "literature in action." But when literature succeeds in expressing itself through action, its validation is the emotion it arouses.

I for one, do not go to theater to "hear language"--even when the author is someone as linguistically dexterous as George Bernard Shaw or Samuel Beckett. And speaking of Beckett, isn't it significant that the most "eloquent" of prose writers has opted in his plays to truncate language and forsake "eloquence"?

"What we remember of Prospero," writes Dietz, "is not his through-line." But in a successful production of "The Tempest," one that delivers the totality of Shakespeare's vision--language and action dynamically intertwined--it is Prospero's "through-line" that we remember.

And we remember it precisely because it transcended the great language of that play and penetrated an interior deeper and richer than its psychological subtext.


L.A. Theatre Center

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