(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 11/15.)
"I have learned," says an elderly character in one of Shaw's less familiar plays, "not to expect too much from life. That way I am always getting pleasant surprises instead of desolating disappointments." Long ago, I adopted this little maxim as the best guideline for theatergoing, and it has held up handsomely over the decades. So it was in my mind this past month when I went to sit on a panel that was to discuss, before an audience of would-be commercial producers, what makes a good play.
At least I thought that was to be the topic. When we began, however, the moderators announced it as, "What makes a successful production?" I groaned inwardly, but my Shavian guideline preserved my equanimity: What, after all, could I have expected would-be commercial producers to think a good play was, if not a successful production? A good play should be a successful play, right? And a successful play always gets a successful production, doesn't it? The distinctions involved were tricky to explain in this context — these were not folk who would put much credence in Henry James' claim that "There was something a failure was, which a success somehow ineffably wasn't." Understandably, neither I nor the other panelists — all smart, articulate people — made much effort to clarify the matter.