The Playgoer: Quote of the Day

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Quote of the Day

“Dated does not necessarily mean bad,” he said. Whether a show is relevant to what is on the front page of newspapers is “completely meaningless,” he said; that’s not where the value of a show lies. “It’s relevant if it moves you...It’s worth reviving because it’s worth reviving.”
-Stephen Sondheim.

Indeed, it takes little skill or insight for a critic to automatically label some play "dated" just because it is old. "Dated" like a carton of stale milk. And conversely, it is equally facile to praise a play of the past for being "relevant" just because some surface detail happens to resemble something happening today. ("Hey, there's a war in this play. And there's a war on now! How prescient...")

Yes, plays that don't seem tailored to our current sensibilities in tone or language are often relegated as expired or extinct. And anything that does miraculously happen to engage us even if it was written before we were born is paid the backhanded compliment of being "ahead of its time."

On the contrary: when we encounter, say, late Victorian exposes of corrupt business practices (The Voysey Inheritance) or studies of mental illness in time of war (Woyzeck) is it not we who are behind their times? Perhaps if we were not so quick to dismiss old texts as "dated" we might learn more from the past and not repeat its mistakes.

1 comment:

Moxie said...

When I say something is "dated," I usually mean that the untimeliness of the story/details has obscured the emotional meaning. When you spend most of a play trying to sift through plot points from another era, that deeper value of a show that Sondheim references can be lost.

At any rate, saying something is "dated" is often a cop-out for those who don't want to do the intellectual heavy lifting. After all, The Coast of Utopia was about some pretty old political issues, as was Les Miz for that matter, and both were hugely popular in their own different ways.