Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Good Writin'

I guess this week's theme is Broadway.

In the latest New Yorker, critic John Lahr extols playwright August Wilson. I haven't seen Wilson's Two Trains Running, which Lahr reviews, and it's always tricky to read a quote out of context, but what do you make of this:
Wilson died this year; as time goes by, his work will be recognized as one of the twentieth century’s greatest dramatic achievements. His plays swing with the pulse of a people. “A nigger with a gun is bad news,” Holloway says. “You say the word ‘gun’ in the same sentence with the word ‘nigger’ and you in trouble. The white man panic. Unless you say, ‘The policeman shot the nigger with his gun.’ ” That’s magnificent writing. I left the theatre exhilarated, glad to have been alive in Wilson’s time.
That's magnificent? I don't know--seems kind of...bad.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the kind of line that could bring the house down in the right context, but I wouldn't call it great writing.

12:53 PM, December 13, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Here it is years later and I feel I've never fully explained what's wrong with this line. So let me do it now.

First, the play is set in the 1960s, and I don't believe people were using the phrase about not having two words in the same sentence then. But worse, that sort of phrasing is meant to be a joke. So commenting on the joke, which is meant to be an odd way of putting things, is making a joke on a joke. Imagine if someone said "that was no lady, that was my wife" and someone else tried a "topper": "yeah, because your wife is no lady!" and you sort of get the feeling.

11:54 AM, December 07, 2009  

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