I’ve done film and book reviews, which means play and poetry reviews are next. And by ‘next’, I mean right now or maybe in a few months when my lazy fingers get typing.
Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
This is Tom Stoppard’s most famous work, and it follows the exploits of two side characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The play explores themes like the cruelty of fate, inevitability of death and man’s place in the universe. Both literally and figuratively, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are left on a ship they do not steer, with time enough only to ponder their tragic ends. What I enjoyed is how well Stoppard highlighted man’s tininess in the vastness of the universe. For example, while you empathize with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as you learn more about them, you finish the play not really knowing how to tell them apart, demonstrating how inconsequential their individual personalities are in both Stoppard’s play and Hamlet. Overall, it was an interesting albeit dark read that asks whether “…all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
The Crucible is a play about a small community that grapples with the onset of the Salem witch trials. It focuses on the struggles of a farmer named John Proctor. Proctor had doomed his wife to death by hanging because a woman he had had an affair with accused his wife of witchcraft to get back at him. At the macro level, The Crucible is about the immensity of human irrationality and its horrible consequences. Women were denounced as witches and sentenced to die out of mere spite and envy. At the micro level, the play explores in a subtle but compelling way how mankind frequently succumbs to vice and just as frequently struggles to redeem itself. What I found refreshing was that John Proctor was written to be a very real, fallible character. You don’t finish the play thinking that Proctor made the right choice and died a Saint. You finish the play wondering if Proctor was a good guy at all and whether he could ever make amends for his sins.
Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Better known by its musical adaptation title, My Fair Lady, Pygmalion is a story about a professor of phonetics who bets that he can turn a lowly flower girl into a society queen by changing the way she speaks, dresses and behaves. While Eliza Doolittle’s moxie is endearing (and unusual for a female character in a play at that time), that was about the only highlight of Shaw’s play for me. For some reason, Pygmalion just seems dated and irrelevant in our times. Perhaps it’s because Shaw meant the play to be a satire of the British class system, and a lot of the play’s quips and gripes are targeted at that specific social structure. I would have enjoyed the play better if Shaw had more openly criticized class hierarchies in general, not just the idiosyncrasies of the British class system of 1912.