Magazine article American Theatre

Simon Mcburney Isn't Awfully Fond of Naturalism

Magazine article American Theatre

Simon Mcburney Isn't Awfully Fond of Naturalism

Article excerpt

"It's a stylistic choice, and it's a deadly one for the theatre," the eminent British director declares flatly in Carol Rocamora's richly detailed interview with him in this issue (page 32).

Why would McBurney (who has just helmed an Arthur Miller play on Broadway, for goodness' sake) so thoroughly diss that venerable production style that has served so many American playwrights--from Miller and Inge, to Lorraine Hansberry and Lanford Wilson, to Horton Foote and Tracy Letts--so well over the years? Because theatre is about the audience, McBurney hotly contends--it comes alive only as an imaginative act in the minds of the audience, and naturalism, with its plodding, metaphor-deflating, manufactured "reality," works directly in opposition to the liberation of the imagination.

You may agree or disagree with McBurney's unequivocal dismissal of the kitchen-sink-drama tradition that still commands respect among so many U.S. theatre folk--certainly his own distinctive ouvre, created primarily with the London-based experimental troupe Complicite, stands as irrefutable evidence that a boldly anti-naturalistic approach can be as narratively compelling and as heart-stoppingly impactful as its opposite.

Something similar might well be said for the work of the Builders Association, the New York City-based troupe that is the subject of this issue's cover story (page 28)--except that for Builders director Marianne Weems and her cohorts, naturalism is just one in a great arsenal of tools that can be employed to construct the technologically dazzling, hyper-mediated productions that have garnered the company increasing acclaim over the past decade. …

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