Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 November 2005

Two Reviews: A Letter to Three Wives & The Violet Hour

Last night I read Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour which was, much to my surprise, a very good play. I don't know why I have been doubting Greenberg. I lie: of course I know, and I'm going to tell you in the next paragraph. I wonder why I say things like that.
Anyway, the thing that kind of irks me about Greenberg (Take Me Out, Three Days of Rain, The Dazzle, Everett Beekin, The America Plan, etc.) is that he writes these hilarious characters with witty banter and obvious gay overtones and then all of the characters in the play turn out to be straight. Perhaps I'm exaggerating. Obviously, the gay characters are front and center in The America Plan, and they ostensibly are in Take Me Out, too, though they are sold somewhat short, to my mind. I first noticed this pattern with a reading of his I went to see at South Coast Rep two or so years ago. It was a new Greenberg play: the title was something about House--I can't remember--there was a lot of fun dialogue but no plot to speak of, strangely enough. I seem to remember that one of the two young male students in the play dies during intermission or something tragic like that. Here's the rub: at intermission it's totally obvious that the two students are in a tentative love-relationship, though it has yet to be fully acknowledged by everyone. Then in Act Two after the boy dies someone asks the other one (years later, I think) if he's gay and he says "no, I wish I were" or some such nonsense. Greenberg was communicating to the audience that the characters were gay and then he turned the tables--and for what? This play wasn't really of consequence, but I feel like Greenberg is rather constantly doing this. Three Days of Rain is similar in this regard, and The Violet Hour follows the same pattern. We think that homosexuality is the "big secret" onstage and it just turns out that it isn't.
I'm not sure what the point of it is: perhaps that homosexuality is just a thing people do and not necessarily a lifestyle. I am contrasting Greenberg in my head to a guy like Jon Robin Baitz who writes witty dialogue worthy of Joseph L. Mankiewicz and boldly writes gay characters, flamboyant and subdued, tortured and put-together. So why does Greenberg feel the need to make his lovely gay characters lovers of women? Whatever it is, it irks me. It would irk me more if Greenberg didn't write so well. The Violet Hour is a fascinating meditation on the future and the past and the choices we make in our lives. It's peppered with witty dialogue and at least three really good roles. There are parts in it for Elizabeth, Kevin, Wahima and me. It's not really my kind of play, but it is interesting and the end is excellent.
Tonight after the laundry, I saw Joseph L. Mankiewicz' A Letter to Three Wives. It's a first-rate bitch-fest with Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain, Kirk Douglas and Thelma Ritter. It's no All About Eve, but then few films are. It does have Mankiewicz' trademark witty dialogue and an excellent performance by Linda Darnell. My main problem with the film is the insistence of the writer-director that what a woman needs most in life is the love of a good man. It's not so clear if this need works both ways, but the women bitch at each other and trade snarky comments, and then go home and make up with the husbands with whom they've fought hours earlier. 'Cause that's what's important ladies: having someone to wake up next to. (This theme resounds in All About Eve, too, if I recall correctly.) It was still fun: I dig all of that bitchy dialogue and that Linda Darnell is a knockout.
I may start to really like Kirk Douglas, too. I don't know why I disliked him for so long. He's growing on me.

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