One of the reasons I love John Lahr

… son of Bert Lahr, as well as long-time theatre critic for The New Yorker (his profiles have been compiled into a wonderful book: Show and Tell: New Yorker Profiles) is because of paragraphs like this one, in his recent review of what sounds like a misguided Glass Menagerie at the Long Wharf:

Direct address suggests that the audience is being let in on a secret. In Edelstein’€™s production, we are, instead, let in on a documentary. In the opening four minutes of the play, a long time in the theatre, Tom (Patch Darragh) enters, puts on a record, loosens his tie, and readies himself to write -€”a preparation that includes swigging from a bottle of Bourbon (though drinking as an aid to writing was a habit that Williams didn’t acquire until nearly a decade later)-€”and, after much flimflammery, starts to type. When Tom finally gets around to speaking the play’€™s first words, he talks to himself, as if sounding out lines hot off his typewriter. We don’€™t enter into memory; we’€™re outside it, watching it take place. This is a huge shift in narrative tone, dramatically speaking-€”like switching from first to third person. To members of the audience who don’€™t know the masterpiece, it may come as a surprise to learn that none of what they’€™re seeing was written by Williams. To those who are familiar with the play, it’€™s an outrageous piece of intellectual impertinence from a director who is trying to claim co-authorship of a play that he imperfectly understands. At a stroke, Williams’s purpose and his meaning are skewed and screwed.

I have always felt that a theatre critic’s job is not just to say, “This was good”, or “This was bad”, but to understand the context and try to make it relevant and clear to the reader (and potential audience member). Not only does he describe accurately this imposed “device” in the new production but he is able to analyze why, exactly, it doesn’t work. He does this because he knows Williams’s work so well, and knows what has been lost in the transfer.

I love John Lahr’s work.

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