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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II

Bermel, Albert
Book reviews: border country in Poland,   pp. 490-499 PDF (9.4 MB)

Page 490

490       (cf. his characterization of Vanessa
Redgrave as resembling "a vulnerable baby
giraffe," his description of Who's Afraid of
Virginia Woolf? as "a microcosm of a
microcosm," his objection to the
Absurdists' "pervasive tone of privileged
Bentley, as I have indicated, has to some
extent escaped the suspicions attached to
Tynan, since both his style and manner
indicate that he is a serious person
attending to serious matters. He is by
no means devoid of humor, but much of it
is subtle, and often so scolding in tone
as to make it sound like a rather harsh
gravity. He is also a man of very nearly
encyclopedic knowledge, and few readers
can fail to be impressed by the immense
breadth of his reading (although he must
nonetheless be a constant source of
intellectual embarrassment to some of
his Columbia colleagues, like Lionel
Trilling and W. H. Auden, who have
repeatedly and publicly avowed their total
lack of interest in and respect for the
theatre as an art form). Tynan, by contrast,
is scarcely a cultural clod, but he wears his
learning - like his adjectives - so
jauntily that it is easy to dismiss his
wide-ranging literary and historical
references as examples of Sophomore
Survey Course superficiality. However, a
man who sees that the proper epigraph for
a review of After the Fall is a quotation from
Goethe may be many things, but he is not
It is also true that good critics - like good
actors - are fertile mines of surprises, and
here neither Bentley nor Tynan is a
disappointment. Bentley, for example, is
peculiarly excellent on the subject of 19th
Century French farce. A couple of Tynan's
best reviews are of Francois Billetdoux's
Chin-Chin and of Lerner and Loewe's
Camelot, the score of which he describes as
"all sugar and fatty degeneration" (a
comment reminiscent of his earlier
characterization of an unhappy
Shakespearean actor essaying Hamlet, as
"a born Horatio").
In short, and despite my previous strictures
concerning both these volumes, there is
much of value - even if one follows my
advice and guts both books, preserving
only a handful of loose pages from each.
This is perhaps not "God's plenty,"
but it is more than we have a right to
expect in a theatre world where a kind of
showbiz Know-Nothing-ism seems all too
often to be the established religion.
It may sometimes seem that, if the mind
is a muscle, it is in dire danger of
atrophy within the show-shops of Broadway
and the West End, as well as in the
critical writings about them, but as long as
Bentley and Tynan are with us the
dangers of atrophication are appreciably
For which, praise be.
by Albert Bermel
Six Plays by Slawomir Mrozek;
Grove Press, 1967. $1.95.
A story has it that a trapper happened to
build a two-room cabin astride the 49th
Parallel. He was visited by a surveyor from
the provincial government of Manitoba who
told the trapper he had a choice. He
could move his bedroom a few feet to the
south and become a citizen of the United
States, or push his living room north into
Canada. "I'll shift the bedroom south,"
the trapper said quickly. "I could never
take those Canadian winters."
The story (with a little straining on my
part) has some bearing on the theatre of
Slawomir Mrozek. For a start his latest
play is actually called Home on the Border.'
It tells of a household that is suddenly
bisected by an international frontier. But
the theme of Home on the Border speaks
incidentally about Mrozek's work as a whole.
Like other outstanding comic dramatists
of the past 20 years, Mrozek perches, at
times uneasily, on the boundary between
satire and allegory. Harold Pinter, for
example, after stumbling into the bleak
allegorical terrain of The Dwarfs, a radio
play ill-adapted to the stage and television,
recovered his balance magnificently with
The Homecoming in which satire and
allegory fortify each other. Pinter is lucky.

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