I’m noticing a trend that I wanted to share. It seems like the contemporary plays I’m reading have much more scenes than the older ones. For example:
Bethany – 2013 – 10 scenes (and only 43 pages!)
She Kills Monsters – 2011 – 17 scenes
Reasons to be Pretty – 2008 – 8 scenes (with 4 optional monologues)
Long Day’s Journey into Night – 1956 – 5 scenes
Streetcar Named Desire – 1947 – 11 scenes (but 3 acts)
The Little Foxes – 1939 – 3 scenes
In addition, the transition between scenes of the contemporary plays feel like “cuts” as opposed to self contained story units. My guess is that this is the influence of film/television on theatre. Honestly, I don’t like it. She Kills Monsters for example feels like it wants to be movie.
I think this also separates the films of someone like Quentin Tarantino, from his peers. Inglourious Basterds certainly feels like a play with its long scenes of endless dialogue.
I finally found a used copy of Ursula Le Guin excellent The Left Hand of Darkness and I have to say that I can’t remember reading a science fiction book that made me feel so uncomfortable. Le Guin’s description of the sexless androgynous Gethen inhabitants of the world Winter is as much a commentary about our society as it is an exploration of another world. In addition, you also see how much Neil Stephenson’s Anathem was influenced by this wonderful book. The Left Hand of Darkness is science fiction at its best. And at only 250 pages it’s short commitment. I highly recommend.
It’s interesting to me that I enjoyed Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Pretty because the characters are so unlike my experience of the world. The men refuse to grow up and the women are almost solely preoccupied with their looks. But there is something about the humor in the conversations of these shallow characters that ring true in every relationship.
Both of Bock’s short plays “The Receptionist” and “The Thugs” are studies of keeping secrets from the audience as long as possible, even though the characters know what’s going on. I found Bock’s staccato dialogue very challenging. But overall I really appreciated the premise of “The Receptionist”; that complicity with evil is just as bad as evil itself.
Neil Simon’s Rumors is a masterclass in comedic repetition. Simon cultives jokes from the very beginning that playoff throughout the entire play; a lesson in economy and subtly. For example; as each of the couples is introduced the husbands fumble a compliment about their wife’s dress. By the time the third husband fumbles his line at the end of Act 1, you’re laughing at the joke and the fact that each husband has fumbled their compliment. Overall I enjoyed Rumors and would recommend it to anyone looking to improve their comedy game.