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Helping Out O'Neill

August 21, 1993

There's no one so accommodating as a dead playwright for allowing "conceptual adaptations" of his work. Witness the recent production of "A Touch of the Poet" at Cal State L.A. and its laudatory review (" 'A Touch of the Poet' in Latino Adaptation," Aug. 5).

The play now has what it never had before, a sociological fix making it comprehensible to its audience as well as, apparently, its reviewer, who tells us: "What the staging may lose in O'Neillian nuance, it gains in relevance." Relevance? Well, who needs tragedy, or at least high drama, if you've got that?

I don't know which sounds shallower, the production or the review, but the point of both seems clear: If the "fix" gets the folks out of the neighborhood for one night and into a theater, the drama has been saved.

O'Neill, ironically, can be put to social uses--"Long Day's Journey Into Night" for example, seen as a study in "dysfunctional family life," if that is all one can get from him, or wants to face in him.

The greater issue here is the protection of the playwright's work from those who would "help" it with their "ideas" to become more "relevant."

Since the death of Beckett, who took his helpers to court and/or refused them productions on a regular basis, no one seems to care that the mutilation of a work of art, even for the purpose of bringing to an audience what it ordinarily would not, or could not, absorb, is ultimately a betrayal of that same audience--a dumbing-down, patronizing process meant to sell seats and, probably, newspapers.

JOSEPH EARNER

North Hollywood

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