Sunday, November 23, 2008

Did Charles Isherwood Ever Hear Of a Musical Called "South Pacific"?

Theater critic Charles Isherwood loves to make sweeping, categorical statements in his reviews. But it might make sense for him to think them over for a moment before publishing them in the newspaper of record -- especially when the record proves him categorically wrong.

Take, for example, his overwrought slam of plays based on novels in today's Arts & Leisure. In it, he goes up against the entire history of American theater, and loses.

There it is, right in his lede, a bold declaration that doesn't hold up to the slightest scrutiny:

Theatergoing is both my profession and a passion, but I was a book-crazed kid and remain a book-loving adult. So you might think I’d be the target audience for the books-on-stage genre, a steady staple of today’s theater.

You’d be dead wrong. Nothing bores me more reliably, and sometimes more profoundly, than stage adaptations of celebrated novels. Offhand I can’t think of a single page-to-stage transfer that really thrilled me, that came close to equaling — or even approximating — the achievement of the book.

Maybe Isherwood forgot to include the words "this season" -- though nowhere in his 1,694-word essay did he suggest that his views were limited to those productions he chose to include in his piece. As Isherwood must realize as well as anyone, the use of novels as source material has a long and distinguished history.

To be fair, Isherwood did issue the disclaimer that his recollections were "offhand." Offhand, here's just a few examples of "books-on-stage" that Isherwood may have forgotten in his rush to make a point: South Pacific, Mame, Cabaret, Oliver, Man of La Mancha, Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Grapes of Wrath, and Mister Roberts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ira, SmarterTimes did it better.