Last summer Scott Timberg wrote a piece in the Los Angeles Times called "Critical Condition." I linked to it and commented on it here (the link to the LA Times no longer works).
Now, in Prospect, Michael Coveney writes about Critical Clowns. "The long, slow haul of a career as a critic," Coveney laments, "with its period of apprenticeship, dedication and accumulation of wisdom and experience —as exemplified by [Andrew] Porter — is suddenly becoming a thing of the past."
Yet he notes that "the feeling persists that theatre is yesterday's news, though yesterday's news has paradoxically become the stuff of contemporary theatre ... every other play in London seemed (and seems) to be about the war in Iraq, or detainees in Guantánamo bay, or the collapse of the railways, or problems with multiculturalism ..." He also takes The Spectator's Toby Yong to task for leaving "the first night of The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh at the interval. [Young]defended his behaviour by saying that he had every right to be as bored as the average punter." Coveney thinks that "McDonagh is trying to push some envelope of extremity in the theatre and the critics have to work out whether or not it should remain sealed."
I haven't seen McDonagh's play, but I've seen enough contemporary drama to know I am tired of seeing the stage taken up with simple-minded editorials about "yesterday's news." A couple of years ago I saw Jesus Hopped the A Train. The production was very fine, the actors extremely good. But the play barely rubbed elbows with reality. The playwright's knowledge of life in prison seemed derived entirely from HBO's Oz and the public defender's grasp of the law was for all practical purposes non-existent.
I think one problem in theater today is that not enough classic plays are staged. If you see something like Ibsen's The Master Builder or Maugham's The Constant Wife, you get an idea of what real theater can do, of how effective well-drawn characters can be. And great drama is rooted in character, not ideology or, worse, policy positions. Even composers and painters nowadays feel they must use art to editorialize. Hasn't anybody noticed that editorials are about the most worthless thing in the newspaper?