Four Baboons Adoring the Sun

By Disch, Thomas M. | The Nation, April 20, 1992 | Go to article overview

Four Baboons Adoring the Sun


Disch, Thomas M., The Nation


Meanwhile, upstairs in the larger Vivian Beaumont (which makes it a "Broadway" play and eligible for Tonys), John Guare's Four Baboons Adoring the Sun has opened while the memory is yet fresh of his long-running Six Degrees of Separation in the same theater and staring the same actress, Stockard Channing. I can't honestly say I hated it, for that would imply a more intense involvement with the events being simulated on stage than was ever the case. I was bored, with twinges of annoyance and everdiminishing flickerings of hope when I would think, "Well, now he's got that part of the exposition over, maybe things will get interesting."

To give credit where credit is due, there is a soundtrack, created by Paul Arditti, that consists of premonitory rumblings that never failed to make me believe something was about to happen, and the lighting, by Richard Pilbrow, was equally thrilling. I'd happily attend a son et lumiere production designed by Arditti and Pilbrow, and I might be almost as enthusiastic for the set design, by Tony Walton, were it not for his having to create four heroic statues representing the baboons of the title, first appearing as Ozymandian ruins and then, for a coup de theatre at the end of the intermissionless play, restored miraculously to their original condition. The four baboons were on view long enough for them to seem unhappily apt symbols of the play itself in its failed aspirations to that higher beauty and secret wisdom that the Ancients possessed.

Perhaps every ambitious playwright must someday come to terms with, or have a stab at, Greek tragedy. Some attempt a frontal assault, writing their own Greek tragedies based on canonical myths, a method that has yielded such diverse results as Sartre's The Flies, Charles Ludlam's Medea and Lee Breuer's The Gospel at Colonus. Others update the Greek originals after the fashion of O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra or A.R. Gurney's Another Antigone. Those who adopt the latter strategy generally employ the conventions of naturalistic drama, though they will often try to find some way to approximate the jurylike presence of the Greek chorus, as did O'Neill and later T.S. Eliot, in his own ever-so-latter-day recensions of classic Greek drama. …

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