The Anti-Rule Book: A Lion of Play Analysis Summarizes His Life's Work in a Liberating Tome

By Jonas, Susan | American Theatre, April 2013 | Go to article overview

The Anti-Rule Book: A Lion of Play Analysis Summarizes His Life's Work in a Liberating Tome


Jonas, Susan, American Theatre


CLEANING AUGEAN STABLES: EXAMINING DRAMA'S STRATEGIES

By Leon Katz

CreateSpace independent Publishing, Seattle, 2012.

336 pp., $19.95 paper.

LEON KATZ IS A LIVING LEGEND A TERM I USE not only to irritate him, but because four or five generations of actors, playwrights, screenwriters, dramaturgs, designers and directors still speak of his classes on play analysis in hushed, reverent tones. We acolytes who chose the path of teaching still comb the yellowed pages of our 25-year-old lecture notes, hoping to catch some of his fire in our own lectures. For taking teaching to an evangelical height, Katz was awarded the 2004 Association of Theatre in Higher Education Career Achievement award, joining the ranks of Edward Albee, Augusto Boal and Anne Bogart. He has earned epithets such as "the Michelangelo of all lecturers" from scholar Meiling Cheng, and "Gandalf" from actor Chris Noth.

My favorite description of Katz's lectures is from my colleague Mark Lord, chair of drama at Bryn Mawr: "It was like having your head explode. Again and again and again."

So the publication of Katz's book on play analysis, as he nears age 94, is both long-awaited and surprising; I think we'd given up hope. The aptly, if unpleasantly, titled Cleaning Augean Stables turns out to be not merely an exercise in nostalgia for the initiated; it's indispensable for anyone seriously interested in the art of the play.

In the book. Katz catalogues an encyclopedic knowledge of what Cheng describes as "conceptual paradigms across genres and periods." The objective is to demonstrate the fallacy of what Katz calls "pieties," unquestioned "rules" of dramatic construction. Testing them against the dramatic corpus, and situating them within the history of thought, he traces the development of theory, or "value systems," in response to shifts in economic and political realities. In the chapter "Packaging Meaning," for instance, Ibsen's Rosniersholm is analyzed through the lenses of "brilliant, influential" studies by Freud, Shaw and Brian Johnston, showing that different, even mutually exclusive, analyses may be persuasive, but all supply what critics look to find.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Katz describes Aristotle's fourth-century B.C. consideration of fifth-century B.C. plays, Poetics, with its checklist to evaluate plays for quality and insufficiency. Katz notes that by Aristotle's value system, among extant Greek tragedies only Oedipus would make the cut as a very good play. Even today, after Beckett and Fornes, Antonioni and Young Jean Lee, theatre departments, film schools and an industry of how-to gurus erect pedagogy around what Sarah Ruhl has called "the enshrinement of the male orgasm," but is better known as Freytag's Pyramid.

Dumbed-down education reduces play analysis to that which can be answered on a multiple choice test. Regurgitated, distilled and diluted, Aristotle's Poetics has long been overprescribed, like Ambien, and to similar effect. The homogenization of drama, film and television leaves us with the reassuring but soporific feeling that we are having the same experience over and over again. We are.

Katz even challenges the holiest certitude: "Conflict, like the Immaculate Conception, came late to the list of eternal verities. It occurred to no one until the very early 19th century that conflict was the essence of drama. ... One might shake one's head in wonder at how it was possible that so fundamental a principle of dramatic structure never entered the head of either Aristotle ... or the heads of any of the commentators of the next 22 centuries." Conflict as a precept, Katz writes, resulted from a "major shift in deep-seated feelings concerning the patterns of human experience and ... human expectation" toward the perception of existence as "a competitive enterprise." Hegel's model of conflicting protagonists representing conflicting ideas helped establish the ruling structure and the very idea of drama; it was then visited retroactively on past dramas.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Anti-Rule Book: A Lion of Play Analysis Summarizes His Life's Work in a Liberating Tome
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.