Kopit, Arthur (Vol. 18)
There is no difficulty of judgment where [a] lack of talent is transparent. Trouble arises when a piece reveals some flair yet settles for facile, complacent strokes of theatre.
Such a play is Arthur Kopit's "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet, and I'm Feelin' So Sad." The very title proclaims the author's shrewdness at attracting attention. But his cleverness goes beyond the invention of a provocative label.
Young Mr. Kopit has an affinity for the bizarre and can translate it into theatrical terms…. He has written several laconic scenes in which the non-sequiturs so familiar in the theatre of the absurd are turned to amusing account….
Mr. Kopit's play has its share of irrelevancies that fall into no pattern of communication. He seems to be concerned with the depredations of the eternal smothering female. Is he laughing to heighten the anguish? Or is he lampooning the mysteries of the subconscious? In the theatre of the absurd ambiguity is often deliberate.
Judging one work at a time, one can say that "Oh Dad" indicates Mr. Kopit's gift for the theatre. Partly diverting and partly obnoxious, his play suggests that with discipline and self-criticism he might become an artist. The particular style he adopts will matter less than the use he puts it to. If he does not fall into the pernicious habit of setting down in slapdash fashion the fancies off the top of his...
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"The Day the Whores Came Out to Play Tennis" … is a farce about the invasion of a Jewish country club by eighteen of the tennis players. (p. 146)
The play is Mr. Kopit's first major entry since "Oh Dad, Poor Dad." There is no plot. Again he makes use of all kinds of old movie and burlesque stunts for his effects…. The tone of the comedy is more mocking than satirical (at least, I could see no indication that Mr. Kopit wants to change or do away with Jewish country clubs), and the targets of his mockery are varied. A lot of what is said is coarse and indecent, but it didn't strike me as vulgar or out of keeping, and some of it is funny. "Oh Dad" dealt in part with a namby-pamby young man and his rapacious mother. This time, we have a namby-pamby young man and his contemptuous father…. "Oh Dad" was farce, too, but … it was farce with an undertone of horror. In "The Day the Whores," there is no undertone of anything. (pp. 146-47)
Edith Oliver, "The Theatre: 'The Day the Whores Came Out to Play Tennis'," in The New Yorker (© 1965 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XLI, No. 6, March 27, 1965, pp. 146-47.
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What I respect in the Kopit double bill of one-acters [Sing to Me Through Open Windows and The Day the Whores Came Out to Play Tennis] is that these "absurd" playlets are trickily disguised confessions, impersonal expressions of what is essentially personal. (p. 373)
[One] may think of the brief Sing To Me Through Open Windows … as a boy's memory of a lost "father," whether "he" be a person, a way of life or a dream of the theatre's magic. This may strike one as overly sentimental; but a touch of unexpected color redeems it from banality.
The longer piece with the frisky title—The Day The Whores Came Out To Play Tennis—possesses a somewhat vicious extravagance that surprises one into risibility. Behind its nonsense lurks a revulsion from a wealthy Jewish business background…. The play develops a metaphor for a rootless urban middle class that is going rapidly to pot in its own inanity, obscenely mocked and ultimately to be destroyed by the whorish world outside—or simply by its women!
You may find this distasteful or little better than fraternity-house Ionesco, but it does exist as a creation, howsoever minuscule. (pp. 373-74)
Harold Clurman, "Theatre: The Kopit Plays," in The Nation (copyright 1965 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 200, No. 14, April 5, 1965, pp. 373-74.
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After the opening of his two new plays, Arthur Kopit was savaged by the press, a development which should surprise nobody familiar with the fickleness of American cultural fashions. Kopit was praised much too quickly on the basis of much too little, and it was inevitable that an angry reaction would set in, not only among those who had originally disliked his first play, but among those who suddenly realized they had overestimated it. On the other hand, Kopit himself is partly responsible for the condescending tone employed by his reviewers. Since he often writes like a gifted spoiled child, he practically invites a spanking. Then, too, Kopit's coy playfulness palls very swiftly. One has the feeling sometimes that he would rather compose titles than plays, and those long, winding tropes are too much like attention-getting mechanisms, full of simpers and winks….
As one of those who found Oh Dad, Poor Dad little more than a sophomore exercise, though, I must concede that The Day The Whores Came Out to Play Tennis struck me as something of an improvement (more like a regression is Sing to Me Through Open Windows, a sentimental effusion on which the windows should have remained shut)…. [Some] of his vaudeville turns are funny, the dialogue bounces with aggression, a few of the characters possess a bizarre originality, and the thought of a country club being destroyed by tennis balls is eccentric enough to tickle my...
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Like most modern playwrights—like most modern thinkers of any kind—Kopit has a distinct tendency to view the rotting underside of life from below. There is nothing particularly new about this—Kopit's contribution lies in the wry imagination he brings to his description of life as he sees it…. (p. 345)
In a way it would be quite unfair to form any judgment of Kopit's abilities as a playwright and thinker on … Oh Dad, Poor Dad … [which] is essentially a huge practical joke. Kopit has written a brilliant satiric take-off on the conventions of the avant-garde drama, and most of the play's popularity undoubtedly stems from the fact that it is wildly funny without being at the same time even vaguely disturbing. (p. 346)
George Wellwarth, "Arthur Kopit," in his The Theater of Protest and Paradox: Developments in the Avant-Garde Drama (reprinted by permission of New York University Press; copyright © 1964, 1971 by New York University), revised edition, New York University Press, 1971, pp. 345-47.
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Anne C. Murch
[Man] is a misfit in the present and this condition is reflected in the drama he creates….
One recurrent element in that drama is ritual action. We shall consider such action in three contemporary plays: Genet's The Maids, Triana's The Night of the Assassins, and Kopit's Chamber Music. Belonging respectively to the French, the Spanish-Cuban, and the North American cultures, these plays illustrate in their striking analogies a much talked-about phenomenon: the emergence of a planet-wide culture, whose common denominator, in the western world, seems to be the individual's show of alienation.
All three plays are about man's estrangement from himself, about his fears, his flights from an unbearable reality, his gropings towards identity, and his failure to achieve it. (p. 369)
[In Kopit's Chamber Music], it is doubtless expected that we should see in the board-meeting in the asylum, beyond the mere pretext of pathological delusions, a representation of the deliberations of state which shape and control our destinies. And also the insane logic of our age, the paranoid fears welding together our deeply divided societies, and the loss of morale of the "sane" slowly taken over and led to their own undoing by the insane—or rather, the meaninglessness of the sane/insane system of oppositions in a context where both parties seem bent on self-destruction, so that the opposition...
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David L. Rinear
Kopit's play [The Day The Whores Came Out To Play Tennis] is one act long, as opposed to the four acts of [Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard]. He utilizes only six characters, while the Russian uses sixteen. It necessarily follows that the brevity of the later work precludes the total development to be found in the longer play. The main idea, however, is exactly the same. In Kopit's play the pilot committee of the Cherry Valley Country Club is concerned because a group of whores have taken over the tennis courts. Throughout the play, they talk about the problem, yet do nothing to correct it. The play closes with the whores retaining possession of the courts and pelting the club house with tennis balls. At the same time the owners are sitting in the nursery of the club house bemoaning the loss of their establishment.
The country club serves the same purpose as Chekhov's estate, for it, too, is the home of what the playwright considers to be a degenerate aristocracy. The aristocratic characters of Cherry Valley are certainly depicted as having seen better days. The representative of the generation in line to inherit the establishment, Herbert, rocks on a hobbyhorse as his heritage crumbles about his ears. The hobbyhorse is symbolic of his monomania, for he is unwilling to acknowledge the threat to his way of life posed by the whores.
The overall tone of the plays is remarkably similar. Kopit's characters, in...
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Carol W. Billman
Even though the credits say [Robert Altman's film Buffalo Bill and the Indians] was only "suggested by" Arthur Kopit's play Indians, there is no better way to understand the film, or the play, than to compare these two visualizations of Americans and their visions of grandeur. Both are crowded, unruly works in which a prevailing visual metaphor—the Wild West Show in all its gaudy glory—is the starting point for getting at the levels of illusion that camouflage the real facts and figures of the American heritage. Altman's and Kopit's unique methods of presenting the Wild West Show and approaches to the truths underlying its splendorous hoopla do indeed make film and play separate but at the same time complementary works. (p. 253)
[The] particular ways in which Altman and Kopit bring to life America's first show business extravaganza reflect not only the medium being used but also the special concerns of each artist. Altman makes use of all the illusionistic resources film offers to re-create the world of the Wild West Show. At first even the show itself seems like the genuine article—that is, it seems as vividly realistic as all those Hollywood westerns. An unseen narrator speaks of the wonder of America as the camera pans across a fog-enshrouded hillside, finally coming to rest on a group of would-be settlers. But the sleepy scene is soon transfigured by the onslaught of whooping savages … sound familiar? The...
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The language of the mind losing hold of words as it drifts off to sleep was first explored by Joyce in Ulysses at the end of the Ithaca episode. But it was Beckett who, in his plays and novels, evoked states bordering on, or representing, aphasia, albeit not literally reproducing clinical cases. Kopit pushes farther in that direction [in Wings], but for all his research into and re-creation of actual defective speech by patients, he too keeps the verbiage within literary boundaries. Thus the work's master metaphor is wings, flying—symbolizing both speech winging its way from person to person and the psyche setting forth on perilous voyages into life and, eventually, out of it.
The play has many virtues…. By various verbal and visual means, Kopit achingly conveys the humiliations of a disability that isolates a mind from its peers and makes of cross-purposes a spirit-breaking cross to bear. He gives us both charmingly wistful moments where patient and therapist become fellow ignoramuses before the mystery of words and moments of nervous humor when a speech-therapy group session yields funny contretemps amid tentative successes.
But, finally, the language of the play, especially in its supposedly most rapturously aerobatic moments, does not quite sustain the poetic flights and dramatic impact demanded from it. Moreover, the tragic conclusion, after strong promises of recovery, seems, though clinically...
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Two intelligent people who accompanied me to see Arthur Kopit's Wings … found it boring. I on the other hand was fascinated.
The reason for this discrepancy of reaction—apart from the fact that such contradictions are always to be expected—is that the play is in a sense a monodrama, and it is always a "tricky" matter to maintain interest in a play almost wholly centered on a single individual. But the more crucial hazard in the project is that it undertakes a visualization of a cerebral stroke, its symptoms, its treatment and the possibilities of its healing….
If Wings is viewed simply as a sort of medical documentary, it may be considered informative but it cannot be genuinely evocative or moving in an artistic sense….
But Kopit's play is more than a description of a diseased condition. It is a metaphor, indeed a multi-metaphor. The patient and central figure is a middle-aged woman of some cultivation and sensibility who had been in her youth an amateur aviatrix. While we watch her tormented effort to emerge from her breakdown, we are made aware of the puzzle and miracle of the human soul which science can detail but not explain. That is what Wings accomplishes and what gives it its special value….
[We hear that Emily Stilson], one stormy night, apparently lost because of a defect in her plane, stepped out with unaccountable bravery and stood...
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