Review: Grace ~ theatre notes

Friday, January 09, 2009

Review: Grace

Happy New Year, y'all. Ms TN is still motoring along in holiday mode, letting her other writerly selves out of the barouche for a run, but already I can hear the engines of 2009 warming up in the distance. I'll be back on the train at the end of the month, attempting to live better, work better and in general attain the holy grail of balance in this strange and disorderly life of mine. Wish me luck. I'll need it.

One thing I've decided is that I want to make more of a distinction between my Australian reviews and the various responses I write on this blog. They are really quite different things, even if they emerge from the same sensibility. So from now on I'll merely link to the reviews I write for the Australian unless, as I usually do on TN, I rewrite them to include the thoughts I had to leave out.

Herewith today's review of the Melbourne Theatre Company's production of Grace by Mick Gordon and AC Grayling, a "theatrical essay" which opened at the Fairfax on Wednesday night. In summary, a well-made production of an artfully written play that drove me up the wall:

[Grace] is so consciously shaped to its intellectual purpose that I was possessed by a screaming tedium. I wanted to grasp Gordon and Grayling by their ties and ask them: why? Why didn't you just write an essay, instead of constructing this creaky illustrative plot? What, I want to know, is the point?

They might quite rightly retort that theatre can be anything you like, even this kind of un-theatre that reduces the possibilities of the stage to an animated lecture hall. Certainly, if you want a civilised debate about religion, this is the play for you. But if you want actual drama, you're better off reading Dostoevsky.

28 comments:

CHRIS said...

Nice blog, nice articles.. I'll be back to this blog often, I reckon.

Anonymous said...

Actual drama? Like the lectures of Zosima? or the tutorly prostitute, Sonia? or the entire first half of Notes from the Underground? I would have thought Dostoyevski was the master of the flimsy melodrama (or "creaky illustrative plot") well stuffed with essays on morality.

Still, I think they're exciting essays.

Alison Croggon said...

Yes, actual drama, in which those "essays on morality" became passionately imagined experience that escaped the limitations of didactic intellectual intention. I don't think it's irrelevant that FD plotted out his novels in acts and scenes.

Anonymous said...

Your review of "Grace", not the show, was frankly infuriating. If you don't like "plays", don't review them. Your readership is not really interested in your likes and dislikes. Your reviews seem less interested in providing a genuine discussion and capturing of a work but more in, as David Mamet writes about critics, an invitation to the reader to find fault, licensing a vicarious superciliousness. The production is enlivening, provocative, upsetting and Noni Hazlehurst's performance is stunning in its intelligence, humanity and power. Does this fill you with "screaming tedium"? Is a mother screaming that her son deserved death at his grave what you call a "civilised...animated lecture"? If you dislike "well-written, erudite, thoughtful, sensitive" work like this, perhaps it's best you also no longer review the work of Arthur Miller, David Hare, Tony Kushner and other writers given to exploring particular topics like religion in dramatic form. If given a choice between some overrated neo-expressionist German opus or metatheatrical tone poem or the like which seem to be your bent or show as rich and affecting as "Grace", I know which I'd choose.

Alison Croggon said...

If you bothered to read what I have written about Arthur Miller and Tony Kushner's work, Anon (why is it always Anon? not even the courage of a nom de plume!) you would see that in fact I admire the work of those two writers a lot. Longish considerations are readily available on this site, if you care to look.

I like plays. I just didn't like this play. I like Ibsen and Strindberg and Shakespeare and Beckett and I even like both Howard Barker AND Trevor Griffiths AND Terence Rattigan AND Arabal AND Ben Johnson. Taste is not so easily categorised as you seem to assume. I have never seen why my pleasures ought to be limited.

The fact that Grace induced cramps in my psyche doesn't mean that other people are not perfectly free to like it, and will. How on earth can that change my own experience of it? Yes, screaming tedium is exactly what happened. I walked out with a stomach ache induced by frustration. I think drama is about alot more than the illustration of arguments, making theatre some kind of moral puppetry. Other people are quite happy with plays doing that, because it makes it easy to justify. Good for them. I'm not.

The emotional peaks of Grace were so contrived - the boy is killed by a terrorist attack by religious fanatics, for godsake, too pat for words, after the careful pan-religious set up. I don't enjoy that kind of artistic manipulativeness. I find it troubling, for all sorts of reasons which would take too long to explain here.

If you read the review of Grace - there's only 400 words of it, after all - you will see that I do indeed acknowledge the performances and the production. And if you wish to take issue with me, you are perfectly welcome. But what about addressing my point, instead of just abusing me? If I were you, I would have thrown Ibsen in my face. That might have been interesting. Because actually this blog is about discussion. Mind you, you'd have to read more than the front page to work that out.

Troubador said...

Dear anonymous,

"Your readership is not really interested in your likes and dislikes."

Maybe it's me, but it seems a hilarious thing to say to any critic.

I suggest that if you don't like "critics", don't read them.

Anonymous said...

Apologies if you found my post "abusive". That was not my intention. Smart-arsed perhaps, but not abusive. Really though, I don't think my tone was any more "abusive" than your review, which of course I read in full. You throw the first stone by shitting on the playwrights, the theatre-makers and the MTC for programming the play from such a great "I'm so theatrically evolved, anti-Aristotlean" height.

I have no problem with you having a different experience of the play to me and other audience members. You found it contrived and illustrative - I found it surprising and genuine. Vive la difference.

I would argue though that as a reviewer for a national newspaper, you have a responsibility to review what the play or production IS, not what you WANT it to be. On this occasion, I think you failed.

Furthermore, my appreciation of your review should not be dependent on an intimate knowledge of your blog and other writings. Is it imperative that I contextualise your intentions and research your taste before reading your review? And why is it required of me to know that Ibsen is your model of a good playwright? Is my review of your review redundant because I didn't choose the right playwright with which to fight and compare Grayling and Gordons' work?? Let's go all day shall we and throw playwrights' names at each other and see who between us is the most learned!

Meanwhile, thanks Troubador for your advice to not read the work of the critics. If such "work" continues to be as hyperbolic, destructive and implicitly self-congratulatory as the review in question, I and fairly soon many others I imagine, won't be.

Alison Croggon said...

No, I wasn't saying that you had to background yourself on my work if you wanted to disagree with my take on Grace. But I was suggesting that, before you take it upon yourself to suggest that I hate "plays" and therefore shouldn't review certain specific playwrights, it might be an idea to check out what I actually have put on record about them; and that it's a little rich to draw conclusions about my personal taste ("overrated neo-expressionist German opus or metatheatrical tone poem or the like") without taking the trouble to find out what it is.

As for Ibsen - you misunderstand me. I only suggested Ibsen because he seems to me the model of a playwright who writes about specific issues - dramatic "essays", if you like - and it might have been interesting to discuss what was different in Ibsen's work, as compared to what went on in Grace. I don't care who's most literate, but it might have made an interesting conversation. This is clearly not your bent. So be it.

As for the review being "hyperbolic, destructive and implicitly self-congratulatory" - what tosh. Yes, I am paid to give my opinion in the Australian. That's my job, and I do it as fairly as I can in the space allowed. You can disagree with me all you like, since neither of us can be "right" about this (something you are clearly unable to negotiate); but I assure you I do this work in good faith. And I might remind you of Kenneth Tynan's comment, that a critic's job is write about what is missing, as well as what is there.

Goosecap said...

I'm puzzled by Mister Anonymous' comments. So, Ms TN's review of GRACE is 'shitting' on the playwrights? The review is 'destructive and hyperbolic'? I've read the review, quite a few times, just to make sure, and it doesn't seem, to me, to be any of these things. It's actually quite mild, saying quite a number of nice, positive, heart warming things, given that Ms TN didn't enjoy the play: she says it is honest and well made, it bounces along, it is well directed and designed. So, I'm sorry, but I don't get all this frothing at the mouth. Perhaps Mister A. should get out more. Or is it too difficult to climb out from all of that cotton wool he obviously lives in? Obviously Mister A. brooks no disagreement. Poor sod; his sheltered life would be so much more interesting if he did.

Anonymous said...

Your comment about taking the time to read your thoughts on Kushner, Miller et al is fair. Ditto the richness about drawing conclusions about your personal taste.

But I stand by my summation of your review being catty and hyperbolic. Not because I need to be "right" but because of your failure to assess the production on its own terms, a phrase of your own that you've posted on this site in respect of other reviews. You've effectively turned off a mass of people who I know would have enjoyed/been stimulated by the play and that's depressing.

The play has been created and offered in "good faith". I'd be interested to see you deliver your "screaming tedium/everything I hate" pearlers face to face to the actors, playwrights and creatives and see what level of "good faith" you feel within in you.

To anyone left reading, go see "Grace". I loved it, Alison didn't!

Alison Croggon said...

Why is it "catty" to honestly describe one's experience of a work? As Goosecap says above (thanks Goosecap) I was actually quite fair, given that I really didn't enjoy myself. And to not note my response would have been indeed in bad faith. I don't go to the theatre to deliberately have a bad time.

As it was, I did indeed describe it on its own terms - I took the term "theatrical essay" from the playwrights themselves, I discussed the issues at work, and the kind of play it is. And I think I gave it its due. I said it was well-written, and praised the production, the performances and the direction. If I had had the space, I might have put it more squarely in its context, linked it to the recent work of David Hare (which I also have huge problems with), traced that back to Ibsen, and explained why I think this kind of work is decadent and reduces theatre to a kind of journalism. I might have looked more closely at the sleight of hand which resulted in the emotional climaxes which so affected you and which to me seemed not at all dramatically earned and in some cases emotionally nonsensical. &c.

Which would have been the kind of review I usually write for this blog, but didn't because at present I am working on other projects aand don't have the time. I still would have wondered what the point was and why an essay wouldn't have served the writers' intentions better.

Would that have made you any happier? I don't know whether your objections arise because I am forced to discuss these things in shorthand in the Australian. Or just because I think them. I suspect the latter. Fwiw, I know several people who agreed with me, so I wasn't a solitary misanthrope.

For the record, I'd have no problem discussing my thoughts, positive or negative, with the "creatives" involved. In fact, I often do just that. And I seriously doubt any review of mine would have turned off those who might have enjoyed it. How do you know? If it was some of your friends, no doubt you have put them straight. The influence of critics on box office is generally very overrated (ask Cameron Mackinstosh). Word of mouth counts for much, much more. Finally, critics - at least ideally - are not merely a function of a theatre's PR campaign, whatever the theatre might think.

Anonymous said...

So let the final word be yours. It seems pretty clear to me who needs to be "right".

Anonymous said...

An entirely different anonymous to above.

My response to the question so dramatically put with the grabbing of the lapels and the screaming why oh why did they not just write an essay - i would say - in fact I'm sure - that Grayling would have written many essays and maybe an essay doesn't have any of the life a play can give to ideas.

Yes - when watching i could see the mechanics - that they were putting characters in situations that would eventually lead to a well articulated debate. But lets face it - i probably won't sit down with some philosophy or the bible with my saturday afternoon but i will attend a play and i do have the kind of questions that the characters were carrying around with then - namely that when the things i believe are challenged how do i navigate towards a life without them or do i trust those instincts beyond reason. Am i going off topic? I think so.

Also - when watching the scenes of whacky dancing and dress ups i could almost hear them phrasing the editorial "emotionally honest punctuated by moments of laugh out loud humor".

But for all of that - i don't mind - i certainly wasn't watching with screaming tedium. Brian when he pulled the two screaming women apart brang tears. As did Noni who i thought was wonderful with material that could be a bit talky talky at times. I thought she was dignified and complex.

I think what i am attempting to say with dubious clarity - is that i thought the theatrical essay was valid. It was slightly contrived - but surely most plays are behind the surface. Playwrights create their characters and then put them through made up drama's to test them. An atheist loses her son and then sees his ghost. A man of God dies just as he had decided to change the world in the name of God.

So in summation - i agree to a point with the contrived plot - but thought there were enough honest and dramatic moments to carry its one and a bit hours. And if i happened to meet Grayling - i'd rather pick his brain than do any lapel grabbing.

Crossed fingers that 2009 is an inspiring year in the theatre.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Anon 2 (it really is less confusing if you don't want to use your real name to use a nom de plume, you just click the "name/url" option). You make fair points.

Quod scripsi scripsi. I'm not going to defend this review to the end (it's just a bloody newspaper review), but I don't think I've anything to apologise for. I reckon these sorts of plays are very hard to write successfully (successful not meaning the same here as popular - although Copenhagen was a hit show, I thought it had exactly the same kinds of problems and found it every bit as excruciating as Grace). Those who are sublimely good at these kinds of plays (Miller and Ibsen are cases in point) manage it in part because they are great enough craftsmen to conceal their manipulativeness, to hide the joins, as it were. And what strikes the heart and intellect most profoundly, in my view, is whatever it is that exceeds their intentions. Perhaps it is simply the presence of a poetic, in the sense suggested by Baudelaire (the most intelligent of poets) when he says the poetry must be "a debacle of the intellect". Or what Rimbaud means when he says "intelligence is too slow". Maybe it's a question of the balance between the harness of intellect and the freedom of passion. I don't know. Here I thought the passion was on a curb bit and prancing like a dressage horse, rather than given free rein. I think maybe more profoundly it's a question of style.

simbo said...

I understand that this genre of writing gets your dander up rather a lot (and your review does have a distinct odour of "I review plays, this is an essay, why do I have to put up with this?")

The answer is.. you don't, but, given it's a case of "I don't like the genre" rather than "I don't like this specific play", it sort of raises the question ... why is the Oz sending you to review stuff you clearly have no sympathy for, why are you subjecting yourself to same, and... um, why is the MTC giving you free tickets to a night of unenjoyment?

Yep, I realise it's the nature of the job. But ... frankly, the dramatic essay as a genre is not going away any time soon (it's been around since at least Shaw). So you are at danger of writing virtually the same review every time.

I suppose what I'm saying is, a lot of your review comments seem to be more appropriate to a general discussion of the genre, rather than to discussion of the individual play. So it seems a little hard on poor old "Grace" for it to bear the burden of being the straw that broke the camel's back...

And defending it with "it's just a bloody newspaper review" doesn't cut it, Alison. You know better than that. All your writing is professional writing (from a blog post to a full-blown leather-bound volume of opinion), and all of it reflects on you as an engaged theatrical observer.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Simbo - I was putting the review in perspective. It is just a bloody newspaper review. I've defended what I said in lots of other ways, all of which you seem to resolutely ignore. What I'm getting here is a kind of outrage that I should dare to think, a questioning of my right to express anything beyond the anodyne prose of press releases. I would suggest that thinking and questioning is my job, especially if I work for a national newspaper.

What's disappointing here is that all my critics skitter wildly away whenever I suggest that they take my point and argue it. You'd rather settle for questioning my character than my ideas. My defending what I said seems in fact to multiply my offence (what do you expect? that I just say, oh, of course, mea culpa, I didn't think that at all...) I do enjoy an good argument, but this certainly isn't one of them. I hate having to repeat myself.

If you've read the review and my ensuing comments you will see that my remarks pertain quite specifically to this individual play. One of my jobs as a critic is to make connections, to see a context, to make genealogies, which is perhaps what makes you think I hate the "genre". I'm not sure that's entirely true; though it's true that I have a deep suspicion of Shaw, which perhaps mitigates my admiration of playwrights like Ibsen. Btw, if you read Shaw's extensive collection of reviews, you'll see that in terms of waspish and acerbic and merciless critique, I ain't got nothing on him.

Abe Pogos said...

Hi Alison,

speaking of "merciless critique", you may recall that I mentioned Robert Brustein's review of Amadaeus to you recently as an example of what a hatchet job really looks like.

Brustein's opening line: "Peter Shaffer's Amadeus is about the ravaging of genius by mediocrity. This seems to be not only the subject of the play but it's prime motivation." A few lines later he suggests "...Amadeus embodies not only Salieri's revenge on Mozart but also Shaffer's revenge on genuine art and primary artists."

So you are just a pussycat after all.

(Perhaps you also need to dredge up your rave review of The Normal Heart just to show people that you have one, and that you don't automatically hate issue based dramatic essay type plays.)

And Simbo, while I have some sympathy with the notion that critics perhaps shouldn't write reviews of works if they happen to be in a genre they don't like. E.g. A critic who openly dislikes musicals may be unlikely to allow honest critical engagement with any musical they see. But at the same time I don't see why an intelligent and honest critic can't review a specific play and raise questions about form at the same time. A good review, like a good play should resonate on many levels and beyond the specific work in question.

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Abe - I've always thought Brustein an excellent model of an engaged critic, and a standard to aspire to. (Btw, you have a much better memory for my reviews than I do - thanks for the reminder).

simbo said...

Okay, perhaps I should clarify...

There are certain plays (and, from the sound of things, Grace is one of them) where the artifice of the characters representing individuals with rounded personalities disappears, and they become, more or less, puppets for various statements by the author (and .. um, well, I'd certianly say Larry Kramer's "Normal Heart" is one of those ... the cast of characters consists of Larry Kramer and everbody else who's obviosly an idiot because they don't agree with Larry Kramer... again, I don't think it's a bad work (although "Destiny of Me" IS a bad work) but it is an odd one to pick to defend as a good example of the form...)

I'm at a disavantage having not seen Grace, but having experienced other works of its genre (some of which I liked, some of which I didn't, and ... it didn't necessarily matter whether I agreed with the essay point being made or not, so much as whether I was engaged)...

There is such a thing as a BAD dramatic essay as well as a good one... (and, again, based on your review, there seems to be enough gratiuitous unlikely manipulation of the emotions as to make it a bad one - you can't debate ideas successfuly if it's overly obvious that the writer is loading the dice so heavily)... It just seems to take away from the idea of judging an individual work on its own merits or failings if you

And of course you've made many defences... and some of them I definatley agree with. But ... I'm just a little afraid that reading a bunch of reviews with phrases like "I screamed in tedium", "I wanted to grab the writers by the lapels" and general other expressions of agony make me want to say "there there, Alison, you don't have to go back to that if you don't want to".

simbo said...

Aargh, incomplete sentence left in there... to finish that one off ...

It just seems to take away from the idea of judging an individual work on its own merits if you dismiss it particularly for saying any particular genre is good or bad ... genre is meant to be the wrapping, not the content, surely?

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks for your post, Simbo. I'm not sure about the term "genre" here, it's kind of slippery. Moreover, I am extremely uncertain about distinctions between style and content in art, since in my view one emerges out of the other.

This review, perhaps, being a case in point. Maybe people are responding to the style rather than what I said? - the lapels and the vapours and everything. The reportage is true enough; and I do think that one of the worst things a review can be is dull. Yes, if every review I wrote was full of such theatrics of ennui (some are, I confess), you might have a point; but this isn't actually the case. It wasn't "a bunch of reviews", it's one review.

It's nice of you to worry, but my job does in fact oblige me to go to plays, whether I'm inclined to or not, and I'm also obliged to report what my responses are. And I think criticism is gutless if (as is actually the case in poetry circles) people refuse to review shows if they can't be "nice", or - which is worse, and also happens - if they just turn reviews into puff pieces, no matter what they privately think, out of a mistaken desire to be "supportive". Nothing is more perniciously poisonous to a culture than that kind of discourse.

On the other hand, and I say this with my hand on my heart, I always enter the theatre with a burning optimism. Sometimes - more often than not, in fact - it is answered by what ensues, sometimes it isn't. And if I stop feeling that optimism, I swear I will stop going, because nothing is worth killing one's soul. The upside of all this is, I guess, that I write with equal passion of those shows I love. Or at least, I try to.

I saw A Normal Heart around 15 years ago, in a production directed by Tom Healy, and who knows what I would say if I saw that now. I remember it being powerful and sweaty and raw. I did read the text relatively recently, for reasons I forget, and enjoyed it. It's polemical, angry, messy. Not elegant, as you say. If I wanted to defend the idea of the theatrical essay, I'd go for something like Ibsen's Master Builder, which sadly I've never seen on stage. But then, I think it's more than merely an "essay"...

Geoffrey said...

Happy New Year everyone! I am greatly enjoying this conversation, and the point (which I think is pertinent to offer) is that I was not considering going to see "Grace". Now, as a result of Ms TN's review and the ensuing debate, I'm thinking I should probably go along. The Fundamental Atheist in me is stirring for a stretch.

The other point here is that Theatre is often so of its time and place (as is the case with "The Normal Heart") that it is difficult to separate the act of it from the literary relevance of it some years later. My own play ("The World ... According to Timothy Cross") was a wonderful success at Napier Street Theatre many, many years ago and I remain convinced that its traction as the act of Theatre was because of its subject matter (assisted suicide in the face of AIDS at the height of the pandemic) and the time and place both I as the playwright and the many members of our audiences were in. What we were looking for as answers to what were, then, unanswerable questions. Would it have any literary worth today? Possibly, but I would be the last person to judge that reasonably and fairly. Instead, I look back on it as an experience that was as potent as it was because of the real time it existed within ... which was quintessentially the reason for its existence.

One of the reasons I am curious about "Grace" and this discussion about it because I think there is a yawning opportunity for work in our theatres that focusses on Religion (Organised or Disorganised) ... and I am interested to see if this work actually is the impassioned plea for knowledge and understanding that the circumstances of our world might in fact be demanding from our Theatre Makers. Somehow I doubt it.

Henry Grebler said...

Hi Alison,

<<<<<<<<Warning>>>>>>>>
This post contains lots of meta analysis not
directly related to the play. It's also quite
long. Further, I apologise in advance if I express
myself clumsily: there are some tricky issues to
broach.
________End Warning________


It's all about taste - and de gustibus non est
disputandum
.

According to my taste, or, to phrase it less
grandly, in my opinion, Alison's review was
uncontroversial, except for the last 2 paragraphs,
which were clearly her personal opinion (or
taste). Moreover, she'd flagged her prejudices in
the first paragraph.

IMO, AnonymousOne's first post was
uncontroversial.

IMO, Alison's response was uncontroversial.

IMO, to this point in the blog, each was
presenting a personal view about the play or
about theatre, IMO legitimate subjects for
disputandum. And interesting.

IMO, AnonymousOne's second post is out of line. He
says:

If you don't like "plays", don't review
them. Your readership is not really
interested in your likes and dislikes.



IMO, there is no place for this sort of stuff here
or anywhere else.

The second sentence is just plain wrong as a
matter of fact. I for one am really
REALLY
interested in your likes and dislikes,
Alison (and reading other posts I am convinced
many others agree). You are always my first
port of call after I've been to the theatre and
the only disappointment is the occasional
discovery that you have not reviewed a
performance (yet).

IMO, whether AnonymousOne's first sentence is
a call to refrain from writing reviews of plays
Alison dislikes, or a call to refrain from
reviewing the form of artistic expression
generally labelled "plays", the exhortation just
seems silly.

With regard to the first case, I like to read
views opposed to mine. So for instance whether I
like or dislike a movie, I go to Rotten Tomatoes
and choose 2 negative reviews and 2 positive
reviews.

With regard to the second case, AnonymousOne may
have a point: it seems to me that if an art form
does not have appeal to a person, that person will
be hard put to write reviews worth reading. Who
wants to read my reviews of lacrosse (a sport I've
never seen played)? (Who wants to read what I'm
writing right now?!)

Nevertheless, I would argue that I'm still
entitled to write reviews of lacrosse; I
just shouldn't be surprised if no one reads them.

Even then, the accusation does not apply. Alison
may not have liked Grace, she may not like plays
presenting "two ideologically opposed characters
arguing with each other on stage" (see Alison's
review of It
Just Stopped
), but to suggest she does not
like "plays" is just nonsense (with all due
respect :-).

However, in my opinion, it's wrong to tell someone
else how to behave.

<<<<<<<<Note>>>>>>>>
I'm not telling AnonymousOne how to
behave; I'm expressing my personal
opinion, criticising the action.


Sadly (perhaps only for me), the subsequent posts
were less interesting. In particular (here I go
again), in my opinion, Alison, you shouldn't
attempt to defend yourself and you don't need to.
I understand how hard it can be to avoid getting
sucked in; and I appreciate that comments like
those of AnonymousOne can hurt. But, IMO, you did
yourself a disservice responding to the personal
remarks. (It reminded me of David Williamson's
appeal to the critics - understandable but
unfortunate.)

Henry Grebler said...

First, I disclose my prejudice: I like my theatre cerebral (like
Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia,
Stephen Sewell's It Just Stopped, Ron Elisha's anything). There
are scenes in The West Wing in which we see "a civilised
debate". I personally never find this dull. (As it happens, I also
like other sorts of theatre.)

Such theatre does require a lot more of its audience (at least with tv
one can record and replay; I have taken to downloading and reading the
transcripts of The West Wing (the transcripts are not scripts -
there are occasional egregious howlers)).

But to return specifically to Grace: I found the play
interesting but had lots of problems with the production/performance.

Perhaps her brilliance went over my head, perhaps I missed the point,
but I thought Noni Hazlehurst's performance was unremarkable. I was
moved by Vandenberg's impassioned speech to her mother - but thought
it went on a bit too long.

I had lots of problems with the character Grace: if her views on
religion were so closely aligned to mine, why did I find her so
irritating? Was she written unsympathetically? Or did Hazlehurst play
her that way? Was it intentional?

Further, is her character likely? I would argue that as a general
rule and in my experience, left-leaning people tend to be laissez
faire
. Yet here is Grace telling her son not to become a preacher
(telling someone else how to behave). (I don't have a script in front
of me; I'm basing these comments on my recollections (from last
night).)

I realise that there is a "loony left", and an extreme left, but
it seems to me such people are driven by ideology. We are given to
understand that Grace is ultra rational. Can we believe her extremely
unreasoned attacks on her son?

Grace makes a point of rejecting the label atheist perhaps
because her position is more extreme: from her utterances, we are given
to understand that she is strongly opposed to all organised
religion because it is often/sometimes hijacked by extremists to exhort
others to kill.

To me the major irony of this play is that Grace, the voice of pure
reason. comes across as an extremist stridently exhorting her son not
to become a preacher; while he shows remarkable restraint and mildness
while presenting his arguments about his belief - all the while
not telling anyone else how to behave, quietly requesting his
right to free speech.

Alison wrote: How do you respond to a perfectly inoffensive play that
embodies everything you hate in the theatre?


I think it's tough, but I think you did ok.

Alison wrote: Why didn't you just write an essay, ...
What, I want to know, is the point?


Well, had they just written an essay, it's unlikely that I and others
would have seen it. So they could answer that they are reaching a
wider audience.

As I said earlier, I had criticisms of the performance and
structure; but, for all that, I really liked (it's so hard to find a
suitable word here - appreciated? enjoyed?) the play and, with suitable
caveats, would recommend it to others. For me the play was a very
positive experience - I'd even go again.

It was well worth the time I spent in the theatre. I don't get to
say that each time.

Further, after the play, we discussed it for over an hour. I got to
wrestle with many interesting ideas. And today I've spent
several hours thinking about the play and writing this post.

What more could I want from a play?

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Geoffrey - did you ever get to the play? And did your fundamentalist atheism get some nice exercise?

Apologies for being offline. I have had (non-theatrical) Reasons, but all is well.

And thanks too to Henry (phew).

As far as Grace is concerned, I've said my piece (several times over!) If this play was intended to spark discussion, it sure fulfilled its brief.

Geoffrey said...

No, I didn't make it after all that. I was discussing the debate here with a friend who suggested that I go and see "Doubt" which, he believed, more likely to get my juices going. And he was correct. I never caught the play in any of its incarnations, but I found the film version quite compelling. Now I am going to search this blog for your review of the play ... which I hope I find.

Alison Croggon said...

Hmm. I wonder what I would think of the film? You prompted me to read the play review and, well, you have to admit that my aesthetic is consistent!

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