Hidden Gems of the American Theater
Terry Teachout is the drama critic for The Wall Street Journal and the chief culture critic for Commentary magazine. His writings on theater, music, and the arts have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and National Review. His most recent book, "Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), was published in December 2009. Teachout is also the librettist for The Letter (composer Paul Moravec), an operatic version of Somerset Maugham's 1927 play, which was commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera in 2006 and premiered there in 2009.
Question: What’s a hidden gem of the American theater?\r\n
Terry Teachout: Well, the American theater is lousy with hidden gems. But I think in particular, there are a lot of plays that used to be, well they're still well made plays of the '30's and '40's that fell out of fashion when the fashion in American theater turned towards more personal expressionistic playwriting. Tennessee Williams really marks the big change in direction here. There is still a lot to be said for the well-made, witty, clever, three-act comedy. There's a playwright named S.M. Berryman, Sam Berryman, who wrote these kinds of social comedies. They are actually extremely sharp and still quite provocative. He has a play called "Biography" which is about to produced off Broadway that I am going to see. I've actually seen that produced and am excited by it.\r\n
John Van Druten, another purveyor of well-made boulevard theater that's actually much more challenging and interesting than you might expect. There's a wonderful play called "The Voice of the Turtle," a three-character play that has never had a modern production on the East Coast so far as I know. There are British playwrights, Terence Rattigan in particular, were all are also totally unfashionable because of their being rooted in traditional wood ways and construction. I'm not saying that this is the best or the only way to write and play, I like Tennessee Williams as much as the next guy, and Sam Shepard, and all sorts of different ways of writing plays. But I don't think that what worked in the ‘30s and ‘40s should be disregarded simply because it is no longer fashionable. And that's something that I've sort of crusaded for in my writing. I look for productions of playwrights like that.\r\n
Question: Who excites you as an up-and-coming talent in theater?\r\n
Terry Teachout: David Cromer, from Chicago, I think is the most gifted young director in America. He had a real setback, he just made his Broadway debut last month with what was supposed to be a repertory production of two Neil Simon plays, and they closed it after the first one opened and before the second one got opened. That's not gonna stop him. This is a guy whose imagination just oozes out of his pores. He did an off-Broadway production of "Our Town" last season that is still running, in which she plays the stage manager. Nowadays, everybody’s seen "Our Town." Your high school did it; you probably didn't when you were in high school. It is an utterly familiar play. And Cromer, without distorting it, without transforming it with beyond recognition, made it absolutely new and fresh and every moment of it was alive.\r\n
He did the same thing with the production of "The Glass Menagerie" that I saw in Kansas City last year. The same thing with the production of William Inges’, "Picnic," that I saw in Chicago two years ago. I got on to him because I travel and most other critics don't so I was aware of him earlier than he was generally known in New York. Now he is atop the list of directors whose work I will travel to see. He excites me.
Recorded on November 17, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen
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