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SECOND OPINION : Overinvestigating a 'Dutch Landscape'?

February 05, 1989|JAMES PRIDEAUX | James Prideaux is the author of "The Last of Mrs. Lincoln."

As a playwright who is not young and starting out, may I voice a concern for those who are young and starting out?

The best of them, to my mind, is Jon Robin Baitz. When I saw his "The Film Society," I knew we had an important new dramatist. It was a well-crafted play that said something to me and I came away having had, as we say, an experience. I looked forward to his next play with real anticipation. He was on the track.

Well, what has happened to Jon Robin Baitz?

He's been commissioned and developed. I will quote from the program of his new play, "Dutch Landscape," at the Mark Taper Forum.

"In the case of 'Dutch Landscape' we were able to undertake a series of readings and workshops to investigate the script's special challenges. The workshops were used not to search for production solutions, but to shape the script, to clarify and intensify the main action of the piece and to better reveal the truths of its characters."

Poor Robby Baitz! The play is a mess. The reviews are such as to destroy any young playwright starting out.

This is, unfortunately, a trend in the American theater, especially regionally. Dramaturgs descend upon the playwright with their clipboards at the ready. Workshops are created in which everybody has their say. There is nothing-- nothing-- that can more readily kill an artist.

I am not saying he shouldn't listen to suggestions. Any playwright who knows what he is doing will cock an ear, even if it's only the cleaning lady voicing an opinion. But he must then be left alone. He must go to his corner and create.

Unfortunately, most young playwrights are scared and hungry and, of course, ambitious. A commissioned piece! Workshops! One must be very strong to stand up against that. But, if he is to be a playwright, he must be strong. He must follow his own instincts. He must learn to say no. There is plenty of time later, when he's writing films, to compromise and buckle under. Not now. Not while he is finding his voice and his style. He must be left alone.

Do, please, leave them alone.

Second Opinion is the reader's chance to comment on events on the Los Angeles theater scene in brief essay form. For the critics' views on "Dutch Landscape," see Stage Week, Page 55.

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