Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Theater: Title Bout (June 7)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's shows for Metromix NY. I'm so disappointed by the titles that playwrights choose for their work, so I'm reviewing their titles now. Not the shows (I haven't seen them yet) just the titles. To read about the content of each show, click through its link to my listings on Metromix NY.

What a nondescript title, it sounds like a dull book about the Constitution. And it's pompous: using the adjective “American” is like draping your show in the flag.

Actually, for a one-word title, this isn't bad. “Freed” suggests emancipation or it suggests parole. The former implies a key event in US history; the latter has built-in tension (“freed” suggests wrongful imprisonment, unlike "released", "remanded", & "paroled").

Presumably this show's about a son who lives in his father's shadow. Will we learn why Dad's nicknamed “Doc” and is the reason interesting?

Great writer, Shakespeare, but hit-or-miss on titles. In practical terms, this is one of his best. It's not just a name (eg Hamlet) or a generic phrase (eg As You Like It). It's specific to the show, it sets the scene in a cosmopolitan city and raises the theme of mercantilism. It focuses the attention on one character (though the Merchant, ironically, is neither the romantic lead nor the villain). Good job, Will!

The problem, however, with titling your show for your protagonist is that it's nondescript. Figure this protag is Italian; what else do you know about the show? Unless you're heavy into feminist art-history or activism, you probably don't recognize the name. So despite the heavy sound, Modotti lacks the weight that's makes a one-name title strong.

I generally like poetic titles but I find this one a little maudlin. “Reflections” implies mirrors as well as self-awareness and candor; good so far. But “of a Heart” just sets my teeth on edge.

It's not pretty but it mostly serves its function: you know what the show's about. Probably a comedy, with an odd name like “Myotis” (which, FYI, is a genus of “bat”, but who knows that?). Or maybe it just reminds me of “Sister Mary Ignatius…”, Durang's lampoon of Catholic school.

Ooh, very poetical: trochaic tetrameter with a missing syllable for emphasis! “Upon” is kind of archaic—poetic license to balance the rhythm. It also sets up a dramatic scenario (literal or metaphorical) of sea-voyage, enlisting us along the way. It's like the plot has started just by your reading the title! This one's good.

Okay, Shakespeare probably didn't come up with his own titles. But The Winter's Tale is such an oddity, both for him and the era, that I've wondered if he titled it himself—esp. cuz it's so good. The medieval “Tale” gives it an intimate feeling. The definite article implies three more seasonal tales, each taking its tone and possibly theme from its climate. Altogether, it implies a work meant to warm you on a cold night.


braak said...

Yeah, I guess "Little Doc" is only interesting if you already know who that guy is. In which case, the name is fraught with stomach-churning dread, the way "Trujillo" or "Goering" is.

Hotspur said...

Please tell! I know 'Baby Doc' Duvalier, but I'm not familiar with a 'Little Doc'.

Anyhow, the title didn't actually refer to a dictator or even relate to one. So any reference was either inadvertent or unilluminating.

braak said...


Oh, man! That was me being stupid and getting the names mixed up.

In that case, yeah, not the most compelling title of the bunch.