Monday, May 11, 2020

This Nutty World: The Triple Glories of Kaufman and Hart

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1937.

Moss Hart was an aspiring young playwright, still living in the Bronx with his family and working in the office of a theatrical agent, when he sent producer Sam Harris a copy of his satirical comedy about the talking-picture revolution. Harris liked it but thought it needed a veteran’s knowhow, so he teamed Hart up with George S. Kaufman, the author or co-author of many Broadway hits. The story of Once in a Lifetime, which underwent significant changes during an extended pre-New York tour, was rewritten over the summer and rewritten again before it opened to rave reviews at the end of September 1930, is well-known to theatre buffs because it forms the triumphant final section of Hart’s memoir, Act One. Act One is the best theatrical memoir I’ve ever read – and I’ve read it four times, twice when I staged my own productions of Once in a Lifetime. The play would be my choice for the finest comedy ever written by Americans, with the possible exception of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s The Front Page. Both are hard-boiled comedies, a genre that contemporary playwrights and screenwriters seldom attempt.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Plot Against America: Adapting a Novel for Television

Morgan Spector, Azhy Robertson, and Zoe Kazan in HBO's The Plot Against America. (Photo:Michele K. Short/HBO)

It's about: What if the magnetic forces at work in our country were just given a little push in one direction. What if a certain kind of intolerance was just given a slight nod from powers on high?
Zoe Kazan, actor on the HBO series, The Plot Against America
History is a nightmare from which none of us can wake.”
– James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This review contains spoilers.

In Anti Social, a riveting account of the alt-right online trollers who elevate the persuasive narrative above any semblance of accuracy, evidence or fairness, Andrew Marantz interjects the wisdom of the philosopher, Richard Rorty, who contends that history is not preordained but is contingent and depends on the way people bend its arc. I thought about Rorty and Marantz’s far-right profiles as I reread The Plot Against America by Philip Roth and watched the six-part gripping HBO mostly-faithful television adaptation by creator David Simon and his collaborator Ed Burns, widely known for their productions among others of The Wire and Treme. I found the gradual slide into fascism in America more convincing in The Plot than I did when I first read it in 2004 – likely because of the current American political climate – and that the Simon’s and Burns’s rendition offers innovations that enhance the relevance of the novel by creatively blurring the distinction between the early 1940s setting and our time.