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The Question of Eloquence

April 03, 1988

In his commentary, "Wanted: A Return to a Theater of Eloquence" (March 20), Steven Dietz offers us, his fellow playwrights, a mixed bag.

He calls for the return of eloquent language and great themes to the theater. All to the good: great themes, so sadly missing since the repressive days of McCarthyism and the blacklist, often inspire us to heightened, soaring dialogue. So long as it doesn't soar beyond the characters' reach.

But he does playwrights and playgoers a disservice when he denigrates the "Well-Made Play." He claims it sublimates all language in favor of the "through-line."

As a working playwright, I've found just the reverse. The stronger the playwright has wrought his play--given it structure, pace and tension--the more can it sustain each scene. It gives us more room for lovely language, not less.

Laying out the plot, the "through-line," is the hardest, most difficult task the playwright has. Perhaps that's why so many pretend it's not important--they're lazy.

A further point of disagreement: I wish Dietz hadn't claimed "the director in rehearsal is . . . the author of performances." Please! The director is the director, the interpreter of the author's creation. . . . I recall once complimenting Arturo Toscanini on a "wondrous creation of Beethoven's Fifth." The maestro jabbed at me with his baton:

"Beethoven is the creator--Beethoven, not I," he said. "The composer, the writer, the painter--they create. I, Toscanini, am the conductor, the interpreter. To be sure, an excellent interpreter!"

A director is a director. Check the Dramatists Guild.


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