John Bishop Clive Barnes - Essay

Clive Barnes

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is always a fascination about the failure of a hero, a fascination possibly more intense when the failure concerns a hero who could never have made it. Most of us identify with the special seediness of unfulfilled glory. And there are simply geniuses who have no cause for worry. John Bishop's play "The Trip Back Down" … is about a stockcar racer approaching his last lap…. He is desperately gallant, an all-time loser who knows the value of losing.

At the end of the play he is able to retort to a detractor: "Let me tell you one thing about losing—you have to be in the race to do it." In that one line you just about have the interest and the value of Mr. Bishop's play…. [It] is an in-built cliché. It is the kind of remark that confirms and massages potential losers rather than challenges and disturbs potential winners. This is not necessarily bad. But it is simplistic.

It is not even certain that the concept of a stock-car racer as a hero is a very good one for the theater. Could not the movies do it better?… Perhaps it doesn't matter. I think it does. Drama should stay away from areas where it is locked out and the movies have all the keys….

[Mr. Bishop] does not really write like anyone else. He writes in the glib, empty vernacular of TV serials. The sort of language that echoes a language rather than transforming it….

The story line has an obviousness to it, yet Mr. Bishop is nobody's fool. He can write certain scenes … with a loving awareness blunted by the obviousness of the way people are expected to feel.

Clive Barnes, "A Bad-Trip," in The New York Times (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 5, 1977, p. C17.