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Monday, June 08, 2009

Submitting to a Play’s Spell, Without the Stage

Not so long ago in America, keeping up with new plays was part of what it meant to be literate, and publishers did good business by stocking the drama sections in bookstores. New Directions published Tennessee Williams; Atheneum made a bundle from Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”; Random House issued many plays in hardcover, including “Oklahoma!” in 1943; Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” for Viking Press, was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.

If you didn’t live near New York, or couldn’t afford tickets, you picked up the print editions if you wanted to be part of the conversation. Those days, sadly, are pretty much gone. Readers’ eyeballs have fled elsewhere. New plays are hard to find in bookstores. They are issued, if at all, mostly by university presses and boutique publishers.

The excuses for not theater-going are easy to list: it’s hell to find a babysitter, Netflix is a lovely narcotic, and it’s hard to commit to loading that much money onto a Visa card. You could just about fly to Dublin and back for the price of a Broadway ticket and a decent meal. But what’s the excuse for not reading some of these plays?

This year, with Sunday evening’s Tony Awards on the horizon, I decided to, well, act. I got my hands on all four of the best play nominees and sat down to read them, having seen exactly none of the productions. Three can easily be found on Amazon or elsewhere: Yasmina Reza’s “God of Carnage,” Neil LaBute’s “reasons to be pretty,” and Horton Foote’s “Dividing the Estate,” which is published in a volume of his work called “Three Plays.”


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