Vital Signs

Old Changelings and New Mutants

To focus some thoughts on current trends in American theatrical style—as distinct from play writing—it may help to use a telescoping lens to zero in on a classic play, not itself American. The play I have in mind is one that was recently produced not in the bazaars of New York but in one of our more influential "regional" companies, the entire production directed and designed by established hands at drumbeating for the New. When I learned that Robert Brustein was opening a run at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge of Middleton and Rowley's 1622 tragedy The Changeling, directed by himself and designed by Michael Yeargan, and that (Amtrak volente) I would be able to get to it, I made plans. After all, I know the play well: I directed it in 1973 and published a long piece of scholarly criticism on it two years later. What is more, my attraction to mounting the play in the first place was in part stimulated by the wretchedness of Elia Kazan's stab at it in 1964, at the then-nascent Lincoln Center Rep, and thus by my overall concurrence with Brustein's ruthless review in The New Republic. So The Changeling is an old friend.

I have never met Brustein, but I have loosely followed (and sometimes cheered on) his self-advertised career ever since I joined in the student agitation that ended up bringing him as dean to the Yale School of Drama in 1966, the year I took my degree...

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