Thursday, April 26, 2018

Edited For Contemporary Consumption

Tonight might be my last evening confined to my heel. It's exhausting to walk any sort of distance while grounded to a heel. So I surfed Flipboard and I saw a review for a revival of Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh." O'Neill is a difficult read and an equally difficult view. But he's worthy of our attention and deemed worthy by the Nobel Committee (Literature 1936.) While reading, I read this sentence:


What?

O'Neill was edited for contemporary consumption.

I read that sentence and swung my feet to the floor - grabbed my IPad and posted an update on Facebook: "Agree or not: Eugene O’Neill is the greatest playwright of the modern age. For the love of Christ read him before you throw contemporary shit in the air."

I swung my feet back on my bed, surfed Comcast for anything to consume my time until sleep, and watched an episode of "Mom" and I had a think. "Mom" is about family and addiction. Sound familiar?

Eugene O’Neill is the father of modern theater and theater is the foundation of television.

O'Neill took the tragedies of the throne and set them on bar stools and kitchen tables. The servant became dethroned by addiction or poverty. "Long Day's Journey Into Night is arguably the greatest play of the modern age.

There would be no "A Streetcar Named Desire" without O’Neill.  Tennessee Williams added skin and sex and stirred.

Arthur Miller took tragedy and put it above blue collar shoulders. "Death of A Salesman" redefined theater because it dealt with people who were above the poverty line yet below the theater's bottom line. 

Theater was in revolution (but not evolution) until Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin In The Sun." Hansberry shifted hope from the burdened Caucasian shoulders and placed it firmly on the struggling shoulders of Blacks. She dispelled the separate-but-equal bullshit and said - not separate at all. And frankly, she wrote men as well as men. 

Now theater revolved again until Mart Crowley's "The Boys In The Band." Gay men (characters of comic relief) were moved from stage left and put center stage.

Next evolution: Michael Bennett's (He didn't write it but he conceived it) "A Chorus Line." No set. No lead. Fragments of universal story lines. Redefined the musical. 

But - widely forgotten and obscenely ignored -  Ntozake Shange's "for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf." Shange took music and tragedy and poetry and rap and broke every rule of theater. Black women as leads? Black women leading. There would be no "Hamilton" without Shange. 

And we’d still be seeing the aristocracy staged without O’Neill. You don't edit O'Neill.