Monday, March 24, 2008

The City Play

The City Play. That's what I would title my next work of drama, if I wanted to make sure it got noticed by American theaters: it combines two fads in play titles that have caught my attention lately, and started to annoy me.

First, the trend of plays whose titles end in "city." I just saw Adam Bock's The Drunken City at Playwrights Horizons, which got me thinking about this. In addition to Bock's play, Shining City by Conor McPherson, Dead City by Sheila Callaghan, and Dying City by Christopher Shinn have all recently been seen in New York. Oh, and a play called Liberty City just opened as well. It's getting pretty hard to tell them all apart! Perhaps this trend dates back to the TV shows Sex and the City and Tales of the City--and I'll admit that, as a wee lass, I always confused those titles as well.

The other, more irritating trend, is to label plays with the word "Play" in the title. Edward Albee (The Play about the Baby), Suzan-Lori Parks (The America Play), and Jordan Harrison (The Museum Play) have all done this, but the major culprit is Sarah Ruhl. I'll give her a pass for Passion Play because, after all, its subject is the history of passion plays, the impact of theater on life, etc. But otherwise, putting "Play" in the title just seems cutesy or tricksy. Couldn't Melancholy Play have been called something like The Melancholics, for instance? Would we still be talking about Death of a Salesman if it had been called The Salesman Play? Unless a play is explicitly about the act of making theater, what is the point of sticking "Play" in the title?

Worst of all, these titles sound like working titles, not names for completed works of art. I mean, here on my blog, or when talking to my friends, I'll refer to "my play that takes place in 1934," but I sure as hell am not actually going to title it that; its name is The Rose of Youth. Ruhl's latest, which will premiere at Berkeley Rep next season, is officially titled The Vibrator Play. This sounds like what you put at the top of your first draft when you have a vague idea of writing a play about the history of the vibrator but not a sense of the finished work. But by the time you're done, you should have progressed beyond this--finding a title that makes a resonant thematic statement, instead of merely acting as a label.

What's strange about this is that Sarah Ruhl was originally a poet, and aside from her titles, her plays are filled with lyrical images and metaphors. Why, then, does she title her plays so prosaically?

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