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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Frank Rich on Durang from 1981

After reading this post, and realizing that the New York Times has opened up its archives online (Praise the Lord) I went digging for old Frank Rich reviews and found this one, about the 1981 production of Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. Here's a bit of it.

Mr. Durang successfully escalates this comic confrontation to a literally violent climax that strips the nun's moral authority bare even as it allows her to retain her crippling psychological power over her students, past and present. As the playwright sees his villainness, she will tolerate no failings in others - but will gladly use church law to rationalize even murder when it suits her own authoritarian purposes. In making his extreme case, Mr. Durang receives strong help from the director, Jerry Zaks, who wisely keeps his actors in realistic bounds. The entire cast is first-rate, including Mr. Stefan's catechism-reciting choirboy, and Miss Franz is brilliant. After her real - and insane - personality is revealed, she still remains all too frighteningly human.

Now, I expect if Rich was having a bad day, he could ruin someone's life. But he could also, as he does here, lionize simply by honestly engaging with the work. His excitement by the ideas, not just their presentation, is obvious. It's the sort of review that can make a career.

Or maybe I'm just mythologizing.


Art said...

Hi Matt,

For a good perspective on this, I would highly recommend reading the afterword in Durang's collection of plays again.

In it he discusses the very personal effect of what you state here about Rich.

Essentially, Durang lost his will to go through with trying to write new plays and subject them to the New York critics. (Especially Rich.)

I don't have the text in front of me, but a paraphrase is this:

"I could no longer even enjoy an opening night in which the audience was enthusiastic. I would be so anxious about what the critics were going to say."

He also speaks specifically to the fact that Rich seemed to want Durang to basically keep writing Sister Ignatius forever. Durang's thoughts are a bit more complex than I am making them out to be here.

It is worth the read.

Christine said...

To add on to your post Art, I saw a Q&A with Adam Rapp and he talked about that very thing - that it was absolutely a crazy making, pressurized experience to be writing a play and have the fear hanging over you about what the New York Times was going to say. He seemed agonized when he was talking about it. And, this was BEFORE Essential Self-Defense premiered. Way before.