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editorial The Theatre and Literary Culture The appearance of David Denby's "Stranger in a Strange Land: A Moviegoer at the Theater" in the January issue of the Atlantic Monthly raised the hair on a few heads, but mostly it produced big yawns. In any case, along with the Endgame and L.S.D. controversies it was something to talk about in a fairly uneventful theatre season. Here was Denby giving a detailed account of "Theaterphobes"-people who love books, music, and are indifferent to theatre. Last winter and spring , "after a long period of guilty abstinence," he went to a lot of plays and kept a notebook on the revivals, musicals, and dramas, mainly on Broadway, that he saw. The result is a long series of jottings about what's wrong with theatre as a form. But sending a film critic to theatre is like sending a food critic to a sports event. It's all a matter of taste. What is more remarkable about the publication of Denby's glib, uninformed article in the magazine is why the Atlantic Monthly would devote so many pages to theatre. Would it have spent so much space on a thoughtful analysis of important issues in the field, issues that would reverberate in broader areas of the humanities and social sciences for its literate readership . The much larger question is, when was the last time any periodical of quality had any significant discussion of drama, the theatre, or theatre books? In the April 21, 1985 edition of the New York Times Book Review a special section on science and technology books was published. It was keyed to the major front page essay by John Banville on "Physics and Fiction: Order from Chaos," a good, extended reflection on the interchanges between 6 scientific discovery and writing. For those general readers who don't subscribe to science magazines the Times has provided excellent expanded coverage of the world of science, not only in the Book Review but in the special science section of a mere few pages which appears regularly on Tuesdays. It has truly added to our knowledge and understanding of the world of science, its accomplishments, ethics, controversies, in highly readable, not the least bit condescending, coverage. If only there was one day a week when a few pages could be given over to the arts and culture at such a high level. Anywhere in the country. Arts and culture not tied to commerce. And would it be too much to dream that one Sunday we might open the Book Review and see the major essay given over to the subject of dramatic literature or criticism-keyed to a special section on important books in the field? One looks in vain in the major general interest periodicals of this country for thoughtful essays on theatre and its literature. All that exists are theatre reviews, the occasional personality piece, perhaps a review of a new biography, and an overwhelming amount of fluff. Sometimes there is tfle put-down piece by a writer, like Denby, who knows almost nothing about theatre. One recent startling event was the front page feature on Liberace's New York engagement in the New York Times on April 3, 1985. Even the most ardent theatre, ballet, or opera-goer would not hope for such coverage of his or her beloved artist on the front page of the Times. Perhaps, however, there is some deep connection between Liberace's life style, his nine cars, hundreds of pianos, furs, jewels, his house with its Gloria Vanderbilt Room, its Rudolph Valentino Room, and the politics of South Africa, star wars, and the new tax laws. Recently, the New York Review of Books awoke from its general disinterest in theatre books to feature a long, bland essay by one Robert Mazzocco of Sam Shepard's Motel Chronicles and several of the plays. Alas, the writer's essay was so incomplete the review did not feature PAJ's two Shepard books, Hawk Moon and American Dreams: The Imagination of Sam Shepard, nor the, admittedly, very recent Inner Landscapes: The Theater of Sam Shepard by Ron Mottram. Was it shoddy scholarship or some form of...


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