LOS ANGELES -- "Our theatre has become . . . too blinded by provincial, temporal concerns to recognize the things that really matter."
Those things, believes Steven Leigh Morris, theatre editor of the Los Angeles Weekly, can be found in a play like Thornton Wilder's Our Town, currently running at the South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, and "in a number of (other) world classics written around or before midcentury."
Writing in a recent issue of the Weekly, Morris compared Our Town to Moises Kaufman's Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, now being performed at the Mark Taper Forum -- and said the latter, as it represents contemporary drama, comes up short.
"Time is Our Town's protagonist," said Morris, "as it is in . . . Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood" and in "every play by Anton Chekhov. Time replaces action in these works: a series of incidents unfolds with no central conflict in sight, drawing our attention to life's minutiae, the day-to-day rituals from which we draw meaning and the illusion of stability. The focus may seem tiny, but the concern is ageless."
Morris then analyzes the play's poetic shift of perspective, from the microscopic to the telescopic, when, in the climactic scene, "an assembly of dead souls sits patiently in the cemetery," looking down and commenting on the cosmos, rather than settling for "the bloated sociological and ethnic obsessions that fuel so much of our theatre and television." In contrast, Gross Indecencies is a drama that, like John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, settles for indignation and entitlement, "as though this were really the stuff of tragedy." Kaufman the lobbyist "melts a rather engaging dispute of principles into a rigged popularity contest between odious bigots and their quivering victims."
Kaufman's play, Morris concludes, "implies that facts (rather than poetry) equal wisdom . . . Wilder's eternal concerns about sky and dust now fall into the second tier of importance, reserved for matters more lyrical than factual.
"I doubt that Our Town, were it written today, would land on a regional stage, let alone Broadway."
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent