I spent a long weekend in New York last week, binging on plays. I saw a mix of Broadway and (more) Off Broadway, with no particular agenda; I saw Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre, just to see how it translated after I'd seen it twice at the Chopin. I caught a gaggle of gay plays simply because they were all running at the same time—when I read Patrick Healy's NYT story on Monday, I was surprised to discover I'd just accidentally seen three of the mentioned plays in 36 hours. I didn't see everything I would've liked—with more time or in different circumstances I might have gone for McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane or the current Radiohole offering.
I've been asked repeatedly since my return last week what was the best thing I saw? The truth is I liked all five shows I took in (I'm rarely so lucky), but if pressed I have to say the most satisfying show I saw was MCC's production of The Pride, the lovely, challenging British import by Alexi Kaye Campbell that took a complex assessment of the gay experience over a 50-year span.
And I keep coming back to a line from Campbell's Playbill bio, as it relates to that whole Outrageous Fortune business (remember two months ago when I promised we were going to talk about that?).
It's this that I can't seem to get past:
Alexi Kaye Campbell…became an actor and worked extensively in theatre, film and television…His first play, The Pride, was on at the Royal Court Theatre in London in November 2008 for which he received the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright and the John Whiting Award for Best Play.
His first play…was on at the Royal Court. Now I don't know a lot about Campbell, and as this is a blog post intended to stoke a conversation that gets back to Outrageous Fortune rather than being the last word, I'm not going to do a lot of research right now. But, grain of salt, I do know his partner Dominic Cooke is the current AD at the Royal Court.
Setting that aside for a moment, though, and for the sake of argument, can you imagine a major American institution saying to a playwright, "Oh, this is your first play? We like it, let's produce it!" rather than submitting them to the commission/development/workshop cycle?
The closest American analogue I can think of right now is former actor Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose The Brothers Size was picked up by the Public before he'd finished his Yale M.F.A. and whose Brother/Sister Plays cycle is currently running at Steppenwolf.
Keeping in mind that I was blown away by both McCraney's tryptych at Steppenwolf and by Campbell's play at the Lortel, I welcome your comments about their quick trajectories and the slower journeys that most new playwrights face, and how the different approaches in the U.S. and the U.K. affect them.