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Three on the Aisle: Go Small or Go Home?

On this podcast, the critics discuss “small-show syndrome”—is programming two-handers and one-set living-room dramas a way for producers to save money, or can it be an inspiring challenge for playwrights?

Twice a month, critics Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal; Elisabeth Vincentelli, contributor to The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The New Yorker; and Peter Marks of The Washington Post, get together on their “Three on the Aisle” podcast to address the major issues brewing in the American theatre.

This week, the trio look at what they call “the small-show syndrome”: the intimate, petite-scale productions that are so popular on American stages these days. New plays with sprawling casts and multi-hour running times such as Bruce Norris’s The Low Road and David Rabe’s Good for Otto stand out amidst a preponderance of two- or three-handers unfurling over 90 minutes. Yes, there are budgetary constraints, but does this scaling-down affect how playwrights work and which topics they choose to cover? Family is American drama’s favorite topic, but are we doomed to a generation of intimate “couch plays”?

And it’s not just new plays that shrink in size: the cast of the Manhattan Theatre Club revival of Saint Joan is just about half the size of the one Shaw envisioned.

Yet Teachout argues that a small scale can be seen as a creative challenge rather than a limitation, and illustrated his point with the work of the New York-based Bedlam company.

In the second segment, Marks, Teachout, and Vincentelli discuss some of the recent shows they liked, and some of the shows they did not care for. Where did David Rabe’s Good for Otto, Joshua Harmon’s Admissions, the Jimmy Buffett musical Escape to Margaritaville and Jordan Harrison’s The Amateurs fall? What did Marks think of Girl from the North Country, a new production based on Bob Dylan songs that he caught in London? Tune in to find out.

To wrap up the episode, Marks, Teachout, and Vincentelli talk about productions they are especially looking forward to this spring.

You can hear all this, and more, on Three on the Aisle.

Download the latest episode here. Have comments or requests for what the critics should talk about? Email them at, or go to @threeontheaisle on Twitter.

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