Arthur Kopit has written The Conquest of Television (1966) and Promontory Point Revisited (1969) for television. In addition, an article by Kopit entitled “The Vital Matter of Environment” was published in Theatre Arts in April, 1961. His television miniseries, Phantom of the Opera, based on Gaston Leroux’s novel, was aired in 1990. He has also written two screenplays, Treasure Island (1994) and Stealing Father (n.d.), and he has translated Henrik Ibsen’s Gengangere (pb. 1881) as Ghosts (1984).
Critics have applied labels to Arthur Kopit based on his first successful work, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad, and although his work has continued to evolve, the labels have stuck. Reviewers called the play an unsuccessful example of the Theater of the Absurd and Kopit an absurdist whose extraordinary titles have been far more enticing than his plays. In spite of these charges, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad won the Vernon Rice Award and the Outer Circle Award in 1962 and was popular enough to be made into a motion picture (directed by Richard Quine and Alexander Mackendrick) in 1967.
Although Kopit’s titles certainly attract attention, he is more than a clever deviser of titles. Indians, for example, must be considered one of the major American plays written in the 1960’s, and Wings was one of the major dramas of the 1970’s. Nine was awarded an Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award. Furthermore, he has displayed a diversity of style and a range of theme uncommon among his contemporaries. Kopit has publicly criticized the American theatrical tradition, especially as embodied by Broadway—a stance that may in part account for his lack of critical recognition. Subsidized by a Harvard University Shaw Traveling Fellowship, Kopit toured Europe and studied continental theater in 1959, and his essay “The Vital Matter of Environment” summed up his feelings about the mediocrity and lack of vitality of the American theater in comparison to European drama. “One can never wholly dissociate a work of art from its creative environment,” he wrote, “Tradition has always been the basis of all innovation. . . . Style is related to tradition to the extent that it is...
Auerbach, Doris. Sam Shepherd, Arthur Kopit, and the Off-Broadway Theater. Boston: Twayne, 1982. An overview of Kopit’s major plays.
Dieckman, Suzanne Burgoyne, and Richard Brayshaw. “Wings, Watchers, and Windows: Imprisonment in the Plays of Arthur Kopit.” Theatre Journal 35 (May, 1983): 195-212. Concentrates on Wings and earlier short plays but speaks intelligently of Indians and Nine as well. The authors find that Kopit’s later work “explores the process of transformation, a process which involves the interplay between freedom and limitations.”
Kauffmann, Stanley. Persons of the Drama: Theater Criticism and Comment. New York: Harper & Row, 1976. A collection of reviews that includes a long look at Indians, in which Kauffmann sees more intention than fulfillment. Pointing to some awkward moments in the work, he comments that “the playwright who could sink to such depths has a foggy conception of the heights.” Speaks well of Stacy Keach, Jr., as Buffalo Bill, and Oliver Smith’s design.
Kelley, Margot Anne. “Order Within Fragmentation: Postmodernism and the Stroke Victim’s World.” Modern Drama 34 (September, 1991): 383-391. A study of Wings, written for radio in 1976 and revised for the stage in 1978. Kopit, in addition to...