I've been reading a play I ordered for my drama class. Yes, I'm like that. I ordered the play without reading it first. And now I'm sort of sorry.
I chose the play because it's the one play the campus theater folks are putting on this semester. They're also putting on a musical play, but since I'm not really qualified to teach an opera course (and honestly not interested enough to put in the time to get there), we'll read the play. I try to have my drama students go to a play, because I think it's really valuable to see a play and talk about it in the context of a drama class and because few of my students have ever been to a play.
This play is culturally fascinating. It's about three folks who are in some sort of hospice care, and with each is one or two people. One guy has his male lover and female ex-wife; another has his wife and son. The third, an elderly woman, has her daughter, but longs for a prefered dead daughter that she no longer realizes is dead.*
If you're like me, you immediately thought, "hospice care, male gay couple, so the play must have something to do with HIV/AIDS." Except that the play was first produced in 1977, and HIV/AIDS didn't start getting recognized (and then not immediately named HIV/AIDS) in the US until 1981. So it's this fascinating cultural moment when gay male existence was okay to discuss in a play without condemnation, but wasn't automatically connected to HIV/AIDS.
I'm thinking that it would be really interesting to add Angels in America to the reading for the semester, but that means I have to lose another play. Right now, I could lose, well, anything. But I'm not getting rid of Shakespeare, or Behn... maybe I should lose Lysistrata or Oedipus? Volpone or Mother Courage?**
Of course, you KNOW some students are going to complain that three plays about gay male issues is overwhelming and offensive (M. Butterfly is also on the schedule). Or will they?
Maybe not. I've taught Winterson's Oranges are not the Only Fruit, and even the more conservative students were uncomplaining and interested. Maybe I should trust my students more?
But this play, compared to any of the others I've mentioned so far, just isn't nearly as interesting, exciting, fun, challenging, whatever. It's not in the same league.
I'm consistently underwhelmed by the play choices our theater folks make. I go to the plays, and I leave thinking that the actors do a pretty good job, and the direction makes sense, but what a poor play. Time and again, and with very few exceptions, the plays just don't strike me as great choices.
*I have a friend who studies relative pronouns, and who has studied the use of "that" as a pronoun standing for a human. Some people use it comfortably (me), and some don't accept the usage. I wish I'd learned about linguistics long ago, because it's fascinating to learn even little bits about how people use and don't use language! In high school, it seemed like they just tried to teach us rule after rule, as if those rules are written in stone and standing forever, whereas linguists think about usage and change, and that's just so much more interesting!
**In the midst of writing this, I went back and revised the schedule, dumping Volpone (I know, sad!) and Everyman, and using the additional days to add in Angels in America and to make more time for The Rover. This means we'll look at mostly early modern drama for the first half (with a side of Greek and medieval plays), and twentieth century drama for the second half. It actually looks like a pretty interesting selection!