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Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (8)

(Part eight of an essay on Ronald Bryden. Please track back to March 5th to find the beginning.)

Only rarely, and then usually in the case of a transplanted Broadway comedy, does Bryden ever casually dismiss a work, although with great failures like Marguerite Duras' The Viaduct, his judgment is harsh. But there are a few dramatists with whom he had little patience, including Jean Anouilh and Friedrich Durrenmatt who are part of an intellectually over-blown European dramatic tradition:

"Unfortunately, like Anouilh he's (Durrenmatt) been seduced into following a playwright whose sophistication he can imitate only at a hopelessly naive distance -- Giraudoux. As Giraudoux used the Greek myths, Durrenmatt uses the German marchen, producing grim modern fairy tales in which science, politics and death are used for general, dark portentous colouring rather as the Brothers Grimm used witches and forests." (July 31, 1966)

Only one other genre could elicit more irritation than the hollow imitations of some European intellectual dramatists -- the Broadway musical. Bryden shared the concern of some of his American contemporaries that American theatre was in decay as a consequence of the commercial pressures of Broadway -- and the consequent push to charm -- when what was needed was "more small theatres for more people who want art to face themes to which charm is inadequate."

When confronted with Broadway musicals which are all treacle and manipulative sentiment, Bryden could be as nasty as the next critic, including hard-nosed (but no less erudite) critic John Simon, as in a scathing review of the enormously successful Man of La Mancha.

"At the Picadilly, the main if not the only interest of the American musical Man of La Mancha is its demonstration of why off-Broadway, where it originated, had to be supplanted by off-off-Broadway." (April 28, 1968)

Or the equally harsh tossing aside (who can blame him?) of Butterflies are Free:

"The less stable a society, the more reassurance it needs. It would be pointless to discuss Butterflies are Free, the Broadway hit comedy at the Apollo, as if it were a play. It's a piece of marketing: packaged, instant self-congratulation for the wealthy middle-aged who alone today can afford the New York theatre."

There is a patrician intellectual disdain apparent in the tone of his comments on American theatre. Even while praising a musical, Bryden finds nothing of lasting value at its core. Entertainment alone, except if it is of the Joan Littlewood "popular theatre" variety, does not really stand as a value for him:

"All Broadway comedies boil down to two plots: the one about the little old lady who persuades Macy's, Standard Oil or the Internal Revenue that money is not everything; or the one about the couple confined together in a flat, like pandas, until they copulate."

Among American writers who works were seen in London only the serious -- Edward Albee, Arthur Kopit and Arthur Miller -- are spared Bryden's occasionally acerbic pen.

Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (9)

Ronald Bryden - An Appreciation (7)