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Title: New Playwrights: The Best Plays of 2001
Author: D. L. Lepidus
Publisher: Smith & Kraus, Inc.
Date Published: July 2003
Jack HelbigNew playwrights, indeed. Of the six represented here, only Douglas Carter Beane, author of the screwy off-Broadway hit As Bees in Honey Drown, could be said to be anything like a nationally known name, and then only among hardcore theater devotees. The rest quickly prove with the quality of their plays that they, too, deserve similar attention. For Chagrin Falls, a smart, moving portrait of a town economically dependent on a nearby maximum security prison, Mia McCullough certainly does, as does Howard Michael Gould for Diva, a look at the making and unmaking of a sit-com that is funnier and more honest than most of what appears on the box. Ironically, neither of these plays, editor Lepidus notes, has been produced in New York. Not that New York production guarantees anything. Evan Smith's all-too-real comic look at graduate-school mind games, Psych, premiered at the well-regarded Playwrights Horizon and yet is no better known than Chagrin Falls. With any luck, however, this anthology will help these writers gain much-deserved broader audiences.
Library JournalThese series aim to collect the creme de la creme of contemporary American drama. The annual "Best Plays" series has been in production under various names and various stellar editors since 1920, when Broadway really was Broadway. Recently, Jenkins (theater studies, NYU) took over and inaugurated a format change: omit play excerpts in favor of commissioned essays that re-create the theatergoing experience; this 82d edition follows suit. Of course, 9/11 marred the 2001-02 season, but there was superior drama to be had, such as Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, Suzan-Lori Parks's Topdog/Underdog, and Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses. Frequently, the contributors muse on the potential effects of the terrorist attacks on play scripts. Wide-ranging theater statistics-a hallmark of the series-remain, which give the book a reference bent. There's also a survey of off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows, as well as lists of prizes, casts, and a description of plays produced in the regional nonprofit theaters outside New York City. This is, most unfortunately, the last edition to feature the drawings of Al Hirschfeld, who passed away last January. Like Jenkins's volume, these fourth and fifth installments in the "New Playwrights" series are useful for documenting the state of dramatic writing, maybe more so because Lepidus considers regional theater in addition to Broadway productions. By his account, grimness rules the day. Of the 14 plays reprinted in both volumes, only Douglas Carter Beane's Music from a Sparkling Planet (2001) lightens the mood, but Noises Off it isn't. The other selections-e.g., Naomi Iizuka's 36 Views and Anne Nelson's The Guys-are at least interesting and topical and, at most, absorbing. But if theater is life, then where are the women? In total, four plays call for only one female actor, and two others have no roles at all for women. As disconcerting as this is, "New Playwrights" is valuable for introducing up-and-comers and is therefore recommended for larger drama collections. With more built-in appeal, "Best Plays" can be recommended more widely.-Larry Schwartz, Minnesota State Univ., Moorhead Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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