The Playgoer: REVIEWS: "Germans in Paris", "Billboard"

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

REVIEWS: "Germans in Paris", "Billboard"

A double whammy for me today in print.

Two Off-Off reviews: "The Germans in Paris" in the Voice and "Billboard" in Time Out.

Can I recommend either of them? Alas, not really.

"Germans in Paris" is the more interesting and better written. But the Voice unfortunately, for space reasons, cut an important piece of info. So let me exploit my own space here to amend.

The playwright, Jonathan Leaf has gained some interest as a rare example of that breed, the living conservative playwright. (A brief profile of him appeared in last summer's Time Out spread on downtown playwrights.) Having called before for as much ideological diversity in our theatres as well as other kinds, I want to make clear that my problem with "Germans in Paris" is not tied to the author's moonlighting credits at the Weekly Standard and National Review. But I do think knowing that helps inform a reading of the politics of the play. And I do think a play's politics are fair game engaging with as a critic if you differ with them.

Just as we are sometimes inclined overlook a play's dramaturgical flaws if it agrees with our politics, I also think we are entitled to weigh our response to a play's argument against other literary virtues. That this entails a critic being open about his or her own politics goes without saying.

Also, in my Voice review I also refrained from making an obvious comparison that is still worth making--that is, to Stoppard's "Coast of Utopia." The parallels, though, are not as simple as famous dead white males in tail coats spouting philosophy in exile. The connection is a similarly classically conservative, and skeptical, weltanschauung. For Leaf, Heinrich Heine is a figure very similar to Stoppard's Alexander Herzen--a stoic, disillusioned pragmatist resisting the tide of violent and (in their eyes) unfeeling change. That classic conservative rallying cry (William F Buckley, I think?) of standing athwart the world and yelling "stop!" applies equally to both plays.

And it is aspect of conservatism that is refreshing in both plays, frankly. It's just hard in short-form criticism to express a more complex ambivalence of resepct vs disagreement.

One last point--I would probably be much more welcome to a play by Leaf about today instead of "Old Europe." One problem with Germans in Paris is that it's not provocative enough. I sense that most in the audience received it as pretty safe Masterpiece Theatre stuff, especially in the present unimaginative production. But next time he writes a play about the current day, even skewering liberals like me, I'm there!

(Anyone see Leaf's The Caterers?)

2 comments:

John Branch said...

Playgoer says, "I do think a play's politics are fair game..." So does Playgoer-Reader, i.e, so do I. Really, we ought to feel free to address anything a play contains, concerns itself with, refers to, or even reminds us of. Andrew Sarris frequently addresses sociological and political matters in his film reviews (in The New York Observer) and as best I recall he never bothers to claim that he has a right to do so--he just does it.

Jonathan Leaf said...

Garrett:

Thanks for taking the time to come and see my play and to expand upon your reactions as you have here. I would like to buy you a cup of coffee and chat. My email address is jileaf@aol.com.

Yours,

Jonathan Leaf