English Imports on Broadway
I have been made weary and humble by my last visit to the theater. My mind, which I had always considered fairly well-tuned to the vagaries of dramatic literature, has finally been blanked after encountering a work of too profound a consequence for it to handle. For some three weeks, over long meditative stretches, I have let loose all the hounds of criticism at my disposal, have set them to sniffing about this particular play and have watched them yelp with failure after uncovering not even the wisp of some essential scent that might allow me a few paragraphs of cogent praise. This aesthetic rebuke would be hard enough were the play in question a sub rosa production of some brief, semi-deranged effulgence, heading, cometlike, for oblivion. However, this is not the case. The play, if you please, resides on Broadway and is currently festooned with every favor that popular judgment provides, including a decent-sized run. Weightier salutes have come from the likes of Harold Clurman, who has made grasping this play and understanding the times in which I live coextensive propositions, and from Richard Gilman, an admired friend, who has counseled that, with this work, I have witnessed a sort of Symbolist evolution into drama—i.e., a play that is about its own language. The only sophisticated ally I have in my bafflement is John Simon, the “acid test” of the Hudson Review. He, too, sees a naked emperor on parade, but since Simon very seldom sees anything else, I’m sure he’ll understand when I say that I find it cold comfort to be alone with him.
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