Reading your interview with Des McAnuff and Peter Sellars (“In Search of a New Mainstream,” Jan. ’84), I noticed with interest that when you sit these guys down to talk about the theatre they talk mostly about the world. It’s been a long time—the social activist days of the late ’60s, and before that, perhaps the heyday of Miller and Williams in the ’50s—since our theatre has gotten its teeth into the social and cultural issues that really matter to people. If these directors can manage to make the kinds of connections they talk so well about, maybe there is a new mainstream to be forged.
Elizabeth Ann Sedgwick
Beauty or Anemia?
Robert Brustein’s attack on the Royal Shakespeare Company (“Not Much Ado After All,” Jan. ’84) is one of the more persuasively argued cheap shots I’ve read since Walter Kerr covered his lap at Dionysus in ’69. This is the sort of reactionary front-porch nostalgia (“Pappy, remember Marat/Sade and Trevor Nunn’s Henry V?—those were the days”) that anxiously diagnoses a welcome spell of becalmed beauty as anemia.
In Brustein’s obvious distaste for the anodyne pleasures of the RSC’s recent productions in America, he has conveniently ignored the company’s ongoing efforts to address searching contemporary issues on its home turf. On a London trip last winter, I was able to enjoy their Cyrano (worth doing for Anthony Burgess’s vigorous new translation alone) on one evening and their compelling staging of David Edgar’s Maydays the next. Maydays was a flawed but challenging epic thesis play, but to read Brustein one would have no idea that this declining “theatre for the Thatcher/Reagan/Bush age” had also mounted a confrontational three-and-a-half hour history of radical socialist movements throughout the 20th century. Any New York producer with half a brain would know that the American audience that had eloquently rejected the RSC’s fascist meditation Good three years earlier would have to be pistol-whipped to forego 42nd Street for a Maydays.
Cyrano’s falling leaves and Much Ado’s reflective surfaces are visual poetry which stir us—not anesthetize us—to the poetry of two classics which can never be performed enough in a United States which regards its European literary lineage with grudging awareness at best. To negate the RSC’s exhilarating reminders of that heritage because we have no patience for the same company’s serious critical efforts is to mourn the wrong dead body.
Photo credit was omitted in last month’s issue for the title page photo of Des McAnuff and Peter Sellars (“In Search of a New Mainstream”). It was taken by Nancy Campbell.
In Peter Zeisler’s editorial (“More than a Warning”), the figure cited for last year’s Congressional appropriation to the arts should have been .018 percent of the national budget.
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