(Michael Feingold's reviews appeared in The Village Voice, October 13.)
The Royal Family Diverts, Oleanna Provokes, Ain Gordon's Disaster Mirrors Ours
The funny part, 233 years later, is that we still don't know who we are. We have a history; we have a cultural tradition, both low and high; and we have a distinctive language. But nobody knows, to this day, exactly what America is. We've somehow managed to transform the world without ever figuring out what we wanted from it or who we, as a nation, thought we were.
Three American plays from different eras crossed my path last week: Manhattan Theatre Club's revival of The Royal Family, George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber's 1927 comedy about the shenanigans of an American theatrical dynasty; Oleanna, David Mamet's hackle-raising 1992 drama of sexual politics in academia; and A Disaster Begins, Ain Gordon's new solo drama, which conveniently frames the sequence by using events of a century ago as a mirror for our own time.
Taken chronologically, the three works' narrowing physical scope shows the American theater's shrinking economic status: The late-'20s comedy boasts a large cast and three generous acts (blessedly given, in Doug Hughes's production, with the correct number of intermissions); the '90s drama, first produced in New York Off-Broadway, calls for two actors and a minimum of scenery, in one taut 75-minute act; Gordon's new work, debuting Off-Off-Broadway, offers one actor and even sparser furnishings, lasting just over an hour. If anything, the shrinkage seems to go with an increased intensity of feeling, like the growing resentment of a poor relative whom the big, affluent nation has unthinkingly shoved aside.
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