John Guare Guare, John (Vol. 8) - Essay

Guare, John (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Guare, John 1938–

American playwright and recipient of several distinguished awards, including the New York Drama Critics Award for the Best New Play of the Year, Guare is generally thought to be the most promising playwright to appear in America since Edward Albee. He excels at writing Strindbergian domestic dramas and savage farces.

"Rich and Famous" … is a vengeful attack on commercial show biz, Absurdist in tone, masquerading as a commercial comedy about eccentric theatre people. A young playwright named Bing Ringling (Guare's taste in character names tends to be garish) has his deeply personal poetic drama about the first Emperor of China gutted and jazzed up, overpraised and bad-mouthed, followed up by talent-hunters and put down gently by failure-freaks, until the climactic rug is pulled out from under him (the production never opens), and he goes off somewhere to "try and be a writer".

Shaky as this is at the core—because Guare never delves into what gives his hero the ability to become a commercial success, or the desire to do so—it triumphs onstage because Guare, a sharp sociologist who appears to have taken his degree in the subject at the College of Pataphysics, is largely content to let his hero, like many a soulful Candide before him, play straight man to a gallery of Dickensian zanies that includes a grandly gay black actor, a compulsive lady producer, Bing's starstruck parents, and in the play's most cutting scene, a young movie actor, Bing's closest boyhood friend, who has sold "the rights to his death," to evade the terror of trying to top his current hit movie. (pp. 67, 70)

Michael Feingold, "Are the Lean Years Over?" in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © 1974 by The Village Voice, Inc.), August 22, 1974, pp. 67, 70.

John Guare, the author of "Marco Polo Sings a Solo,"… has one of the most fertile, magpie comic imaginations in the theatre today; his "House of Blue Leaves" and "Muzeeka" … are indelible. "Marco Polo" is as full of incidents and jokes and surprises as an old George Abbott farce, but it is actually a science-fiction comedy…. The play, like so much else in science fiction, is based on the premise that the future will be the present in italics (a theory that I have always considered at least arguable), and the dramatist seems to have gleaned his teeming brain of all the emotional and intellectual detritus of the twentieth century. Overflowing though it is, however, the play is never chaotic or pointless. In fact, Mr. Guare has points to make—though it cannot be denied that he is easily diverted from them, to our benefit, by his invariably funny routines. (pp. 53-4)

Edith Oliver, in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), February 14, 1977.

John Guare's "Marco Polo Sings a Solo" explodes like a piñata, littering the stage with fragments, some bright and delightful, some torn and frazzled. (p. 66)

John Guare has thrown so many ideas, notions, themes, schemes and dreams into his play that you can practically hear it burp…. Guare can be very funny, sometimes jejune. But his real strength is the genuine sorrow in his view of our world as a technological runaway, spewing cultural and intellectual debris all over the universe as it careens toward slapshtik apocalypse. (p. 69)

Jack Kroll, "Slapshtik," in Newsweek (copyright 1977 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), February 14, 1977, pp. 66, 69.

Although steeped in Ibsen (frequent references to A Doll's House) and Chekhov (one notably funny diatribe against The Three Sisters), [Marco Polo Sings a Solo] recalls nothing so much as the play Kurt Vonnegut would have written if he could write plays; the same affectionate loathing for humanity, the same manipulation of preposterousness in event and language, the same comic ability to grab a cliché and twist it into life by taking it literally. Above all, the same despair, splashed across an otherwise good-humored farcical entertainment, too thinly to rank as a deep artistic vision but strong enough to put a chill on the jollity, to scatter it across the stage in tiny beads of freeze-dried horror. You feel that, packed into a test tube, Guare's view of life would indeed be powerful enough to freeze the whole world, like Vonnegut's ice-nine. We probably ought to be grateful that he has the kindness to dilute it with sheer playfulness, that his mind cannot resist a purely comic or nonsensical diversion, that he follows so many tracks off in so many directions that returning to the main point becomes a tour de force.

The forces that keep Marco Polo from falling apart are the characters' obsessions, carried almost to the degree of Jonsonian humors: one with heroism and planthood, one with the glow of someone else's family life, one with his stature in the pop-political world of diplomacy. And the glamorous female around whom these three creatures revolve, drained of any feeling at all, sublimates her disgust by going to endless productions of A Doll's House. The end is stasis, an emotional icing over that reflects the ice-palace setting. The characters wait, frozen, for the new century, wondering if they have actually lived through any of this one.

Michael Feingold, "John Guare's Freeze-Dried Despair," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice; copyright © by The Village Voice, Inc., 1977), February 14, 1977, p. 43.

The decline of [John Guare, a] once promising writer, from Muzeeka and The House of Blue Leaves to last year's Rich and Famous and now this latest uninspired lunacy [Marco Polo Sings a Solo], is something for Mr. Guare to explain, if he can, and at least to ponder….

Marco Polo is a sad study in non-discipline. Somewhere under all the college-boy overwriting, the Mad-magazine sci-fi spoofery, there is something of an idea in the play: the failure of people to deal with present or future realities. But nothing comes together, nothing in this futuristic phantasmagoria makes sense. (p. 62)

Alan Rich, in New York Magazine (© 1977 by NYM Corp.; reprinted by permission of New York Magazine and Alan Rich), February 21, 1977.