By Jim O'Quinn
Several times a year, American Theatre offers readers a theme issue, a package of feature material that examines a resonant topic in depth and from multiple angles. For an editor, the pleasures and challenges of theme issues are considerable—but let me confess that, as a reader, I often prefer the variety and expansiveness of an issue like the one you hold in your hands: eclectic, freewheeling, unencumbered by thesis or motif. It’s invigorating to rediscover, as you move through the assortment of topics and medley of personalities in these pages, what a big word theatre is—how it encompasses a measureless array of styles and disciplines and human concerns, how it plumbs the recesses of history and, with equal vitality, anatomizes the ambiguous surfaces of contemporary life.
Some cases in point: As Randy Gener’s cover profile of this year’s Pulitzer-winner Nilo Cruz reports, the playwright’s career-in-exile from his native Cuba has generated a provocative body of work that synthesizes that country’s tortured politics and irrepressible sensuality—and measures the weight of historical events on individual lives. Historical forces also course through Celia Wren’s portrait of the Indiana-based New Harmony Project, a uniquely American play-development center with roots in Christian and socialist utopian movements. Affiliated writer Eric Grode’s scintillating account of multiple stagings of Oscar Wilde’s Salome reaches even farther back—past 19th-century decadence all the way to biblical sources—as it assays the present-day impact of a drama notorious for being notorious.
And, despite the impression that you’re reading a play completely different from any you’ve encountered before, you’ll recognize in the twists and turns of Rinde Eckert’s Highway Ulysses a dazzling oscillation between the ancient and the modern, another riff on the relationship of history (literary history, in this case) to contemporary consciousness.
Add Arnold Aronson’s authoritative account of the recent Prague Quadrennial of theatre design; Affiliated Writer Wendy Weisman’s lively profile of Minneapolis director Casey Stangl; and an ongoing debate in several parts of the issue about artists’ response to the Arab-Israeli conflict—and the tally is an issue as timely and readable as it is ostensibly themeless. Except, of course, for that one big word. —Jim O’Quinn
© - 2006 by Theatre Communications Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.