Introduction

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Jones, Preston 1936–

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Jones is an American playwright, actor, and director. His first play, A Texas Trilogy, reveals him to be a regional playwright, with characters and settings drawn from the rural Southwest. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-75.)

Brendan Gill

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Plainly, [Preston Jones] is an ambitious man. It is his good fortune to be making his début on Broadway with three plays instead of one; it is his ill fortune that Broadway, on hearing of the plays' rapturous reception out of town, and with its usual tendency toward overexcitement, came to regard his advent as the Advent. If the triple début ["A Texas Trilogy"] is unprecedented, the plays are not; they are specimens of a kind of domestic comic melodrama long familiar to our stage and must be dealt with as such. Mr. Jones is talented and has an excellent ear, but at the moment his stagecraft is more nearly carpentry than marquetry—when two characters are required for reasons of plot to have a private conversation, he is not above sending a supernumerary character forcibly off to the bathroom. When he must handle more than two or three characters at a time, the effort shows. Nevertheless, we are lucky to have him among us, and not least because he is able to make us laugh. (p. 75)

Brendan Gill, in The New Yorker (© 1976 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), October 4, 1976.

Harold Clurman

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Eugene O'Neill once said that the United States was the greatest failure in history. It had entered the world arena with every possible advantage—a new land, noble ideals, few hierarchical burdens—but it had muffed its opportunity by overlooking the Bible's challenge, "For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" In its rush toward material power, America had lost all valid faith. On this premise O'Neill planned a nine-play cycle to be called A Tale of Possessors, Self-Dispossessed.

That cycle would undoubtedly have been a tragic work. But imagine if someone today undertook to compose a similar series as farce. Might it not resemble Preston Jones's A Texas Trilogy …?

Mr. Jones does not seek to prove anything. As for O'Neill's "thesis" he might respond with a four-letter expletive signifying "Perish the thought!" His trilogy is "simply" a depiction of citizens in Bradleyville, a tiny Texas town from 1953 to 1973. It is an unsentimental comedy and much of it is very funny. (p. 348)

It has been said that when history repeats itself, it does so as farce. A Texas Trilogy is not farce; it is a genre piece in three parts … which, to begin with, has the appearance of minute realism that gradually turns to something close to savagely hilarious grotesquerie. Though [several comparisons can be suggested] it is an original work. It fits into no single, obvious category. Jones writes with a keen ear for the speech of a particular locality as if he were only bent on recording it for fun, but we soon realize that he is not laughing, but making us laugh, so much so at times that we are hardly aware of what we're laughing at.

We forget that, whether Jones meant it to be so or not, Bradleyville is not just a remote rural town but a microcosm. Something more is being achieved in the trilogy than an inside view of the kind of place we big-city folk know very little about. The play's sights point to domains beyond Texas or the South.

Bradleyville is spiritually void. Most of its vital impulses have dried up or evaporated; their presence for the most part is expressed in spastic jerks. (p. 349)

There is much repetition, which adds to rather than detracts from the play's mood and meaning. There is not much "plot," but that hardly matters: the play exists and takes hold as very few new American plays these days have done. (p. 350)

Harold Clurman, in The Nation (copyright 1976 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), October 9, 1976.

Alan Rich

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 550

What Mr. Jones has created most notably in [A Texas Trilogy] … is a series of verbal tone poems about empty lives in an empty setting, a decaying small town somewhere in west Texas. As a fledgling author (with, to be sure, a considerable background in other aspects of theater, as an actor and a director), his command of both tone and poetry is remarkable. His models aren't difficult to fathom: popular fiction of the Peyton Place variety for the sense of creating and interweaving of character; William Inge's better plays for the technique of relating character to setting. But Mr. Jones has one talent that far surpasses either of these dubious sources: a gift for the indigenous, if not always ear-tickling, individualities in language.

Inasmuch as the plays are given without the customary amenity of a printed glossary or translator-earphones, perhaps I'd better tell you a little more about this language. Texas is a rather large state, and one effect of this size is that words tend to sprawl out to fill the surrounding space. Unlike people in, say, Rhode Island, Texans have room to carry around double names, like Billy Bob or Martha Ann. One-syllable words also tend to stretch out into two syllables or more; vowels, similarly, ooze out into diphthongs. Extra words, sometimes mildly profane, sometimes get added to sentences, simply as ballast. That old paradigmatic sentence becomes, in Texan, "Whar's muh ay-unt's bah-God pay-in?"

Mr. Jones loves his language, and when he dips his pen into it that instrument is transformed into a paintbrush. That is both the joy and the sorrow of A Texas Trilogy, that the author has somehow transformed human action into the elements of still-life or landscape painting. Two of his most appealing characters are a pair of mule-headed old codgers who, apparently, spend most of their lives together at checkers or horseshoes, each convinced that the other is a monstrous swindler. They spray each other with ferocious verbiage, their lives hanging on the knowledge that the combat will never, can never, be resolved…. [What] we finally see is not character but horizon, a line of language stretched out toward infinity….

There is some nice observation [in Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander, the best of the three], but no real play. Whatever action there is has taken place between acts off-stage; the stage itself is a triptych of flat canvases full of interesting perspectives that state little more than that time goes on….

The other two plays are built around a character who could, under better circumstances, provide Mr. Jones with some semblance of motive power. Colonel Kinkaid, an old soldier living out his last hours in a raging senility that is punctuated by flashes of rational recollection, is hardly an original conception, but Mr. Jones uses him with sure and obvious affection…. (p. 88)

Mr. Jones has been hurt, I think, by the hoopla his plays have generated…. [These] plays are obviously not going to outlast their initial news impact, and that can do our tenderfoot playwright a lot of unwarranted harm. There is much to be said, judging from the evidence at hand, for coming up slowly through the ranks. (p. 89)

Alan Rich, in New York Magazine (copyright © 1976 by the NYM Corporation; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), October 11, 1976.

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