cover image The Playwright's Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists

The Playwright's Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists

. Rutgers University Press, $20 (344pp) ISBN 978-0-8135-2129-9

``Creativity is very difficult to talk about,'' warns veteran playwright Robert Anderson. Nevertheless, he and 14 of America's leading dramatists participate in an entertaining and at times revealing discussion about the creative process-despite an overall lack of focus occasioned by multiple interviewers. As Bryer, a professor of English at the University of Maryland and co-editor of Selected Letters of Eugene O'Neill, says in his introduction, the intention was to ``deal with the mysteries of that `irrational act' [playwriting], as well as with the changing face of the American theatre during the past half century.'' In light of this, it is odd that the book is organized alphabetically rather than chronologically, making it difficult to draw comparisons between writers of a period or to follow the progression of dramatic writing. The playwrights hold forth quotably on a range of topics, and if certain recurrent questions are generically probing (``What terrifies you?''), the playwrights rise to the challenge. When asked simply ``How did you become a playwright?'' Terrance McNally launches into a four-page response that is practically a one-act play. Critics are characterized by Neil Simon as ``The R-rated part of the conversation.'' And Ntozake Shange confesses that she prefers writing novels to plays ``because I don't have to talk to anybody.'' If the book is ultimately a bit disappointing, the fault seems to lie in Edward Albee's answer to what terrifies him: ``Not being asked wonderful questions.'' (Feb.)