Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Theater: Title Bout (January 11)

Every week, I compose listings on the week's new plays for Metromix NY. I'm often 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.

An iteration of the convention 'stick “American” before a word to make it resonant' (see American Buffalo, American Idiot, etc.). What makes American Sexy a cut above the rest is that it uses an adjective instead of a noun.

Following the practice of his era, Shakespeare (or his producers) (or the editors of the First Folio) name this show for its most regal character―even though he's not particularly central. Not a great one frankly, especially since the Folio perversely calls it The Tragedie of Cymbeline when it's no such thing.

A funny, nonsensical title, which works for & against it: easy to notice, hard to remember. It sounds like a 1980s toy imported from Japan.

Characterizing the title character (rather than naming him, which wasn't MoliƩre's style anyway, Tartuffe aside) as a misanthrope is dodgy from a marketing point-of-view. But it's great from a dramatic one & especially a comedic one. You expect a caustic work full of personality clashes &, ultimately, probably, unhappiness.

A title after the setting rather than the protagonist. There's a portent to this one―it's a little like Room 101 in 1984. But the randomness of the number & the subdivision of the room adds a bureaucratic confusion to the setting.

Surprisingly, Wikipedia only lists one movie with this name, & it's a porno. Doollee also lists only one other playscript with this title (AR Gurney). So most writers, or their producers, know enough to stay away from such a bland, generic title.

This production of Chekhov's classic drops the standard definite article, which is okay because Russian doesn't use articles at all. Its absence does make you stop short. With or without “the”, this title has always sounded a little like a fairy tale to me.

It sounds like a 18C portrait, full of detail but also slightly allegorical. It also has echoes of a 'whipping boy', the surrogate for a naughty prince who's too high-born to receive the punishment he deserves. So does this title refer to the person whipping or the one being whipped? A good script will play upon that ambiguity…

A modern version of As You Like It? Maybe it's the contemporary style, maybe it's the 'public'―but this sounds more like pandering than Will's titles did. But it could also be a show that examines & critiques the title subject. Not a great title, but its ironic fold adds a layer or two.

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