The Playgoer: "A Streep Cart Named Desire"

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"A Streep Cart Named Desire"

The title of Michael Feingold's review, out on newstands today. Verdict: highly critical, yet certainly "fair and balanced," if you will, with lots of praise for Streep in principle, but stressing the big, big flaws here. Also, some thought provoking remarks on the American theatre's problems with Brecht.

But most eye-popping to me was this nuggest of information I had never heard before about BB:

Courage's hard eye for a bargain, her shifting allegiances, and her crafty ability to talk her way out of any situation are not merely conceptual: Brecht found these elements in himself, not in his historical sources. When he first drafted the play in 1939, he had three acknowledged children; his eldest son, Frank, was killed fighting for the Nazis on the Russian front in 1943—a fact surely as relevant to the play as any definition of "alienation effect."

As Feingold makes clear, Brecht the writer and Mother Courage the play have only gotten more compelling with time, not less. And anyone who suggests this production simply does the best it can with a creaky old political tract is doing a disservice to both.

Hard to remember the last time a major production divided critics so much. I'd say the trend has been negative among the heavy hitters, but the broader spectrum (including bloggers) includes significant praise. I also have a hunch (just a hunch) that it's the younger critics you have liked it more. (I'm thinking of NY Mag's McCarter and Time Out's Feldman, certainly smart guys.) Brantley, Feingold, McNulty, Jenkins, and Marks, are hardly old. But just old enough to have a stronger impression of what Brecht meant in the 60s and 70s in their minds.

I suppose at this moment it's appropriate to reveal that I'm 36. Just an old codger at heart, I guess.

Anyway, Rob Kendt has been keeping a full tally (here and here), including, imagine, a critique of my review!


Anonymous said...

John Simon is no spring chicken.
Brecht did not actually mean a whole lot in the US in the 60s and 70s. Unlike in England (and Latin America and elsewhere), in the US it was Artaud and Grotowski who had the most influence.

btw have any women reviewed the show? I wonder if they see it differently. ARE there any women reviewing seriously anywhere any more?

Finally, re your earlier complaints about Shakespeare in the Park banking on movie stars instead of lesser known theater people (I think that was your argument): Last night the show went on despite constant rain for the first two hours or more. Streep gave her all. You could feel her delivering to an audience she knew had waited hours in the rain for tickets and now was sitting in the rain. She wasn't going to let them down. She was sopping wet by the intermission. A lesser actor would have called it off. The stage manager delayed the curtain by almost half an hour and called a 10-minute rain pause after the first scene, so Streep certainly had a chance to be a diva. Instead, she was a real stage trooper, full of commitment and generosity.

Playgoer said...

Good point about John Simon. He's not young--just a conservative! And I would expect a Brecht-hatah, so maybe his rave should be suspect! (Or maybe his National Review/Bloomberg credentials are balanced by his mitteleuropan sensibilities.)

I don't deny Streep is a class-A trooper and a great actress. Again, I think Feingold captures just the right mix of admiration for and disappointment in her performance.

As for female critics--the (sadly) two on record are suitably split. Newsday's Linda Weiner is negative and USA Today's Elysa Gardner is thumbs-up.


Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

Actually you can add Alexis Greene to the list of female critics who weighed in:

Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

If you count out-of-towners, Toby Zinman (whom your links above prove is a woman)
And of course Barbara Siegel is one half of a tireless team:

Anonymous said...

hey Garrett--

i liked the show more than you did, though i agree that George Wolf's direction was surprisingly uninspired. Feingold's review was a little curmudgeonly, i thought, spending more time on what he would have done than on what it was that this production/adaptation was setting out to do and the degree to which those goals were acheived.