Monday, May 6, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 13: Morton Eustis, The Man Who Came to Dinner With George Kaufman Directing (#146)

Morton Eustis, The Man Who Came to DinnerWith George Kaufman Directing (1939) from The American Stage:
This article is basically a long paean to the comedy genius of George Kaufman, especially considering the difficulties of putting on a comedy. What's so strange about this piece is that it works. Sure, the depiction of Kaufman seems straight up a theatrical genius stereotype--gangly, always sitting with his legs dangling, his hair poofed up, constantly working. But Eustis mixes his "what a genius" lines with an examination of what sort of work Kaufman is doing as a writer-director, so we have some reason to believe his judgment.

This piece--and likely this whole collection--won't appeal to everyone. I was especially interested because of my experience, lo, these many years ago, writing a sketch revue at the Second City. As I blogged about then, writing funny for the stage is impossible in a vacuum: you've got to take into account the actors and even, damnit, the audience. Eustis hits this idea a lot, with Kaufman thinking over the rhythm of the lines, the heightening of comedic effect, and the necessity for laugh pauses. I also dig Kaufman's technique of running the play backwards to see if there's any dead space in each act by itself.

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