Smokefall by Noah Haidle: An American Classic

Mail2_header_blankSmokefall by Noah Haidle, which I saw yesterday, is a great and important play, given a definitive, defining, and dazzling production by the Goodman Theatre. The occasion should be marked in theater history along with the Miller, Kazan, Mielziner collaboration on the birth of Death of a Salesman,Mr. Haidle’s play and the Goodman production are that good.

The play is great because it concerns itself with the great traditional themes of literature – life, death, family, love, sorrow, finding, loosing, searching, waiting, despairing and hoping, and repeating. The play is great because the playwright knows how to manipulate the various styles and modes of the theater in service of his network of ideas. The play is wise to the point of profundity, and entertaining to the point of magic.

If Thornton Wilder, one of the playwright’s favorite dramatists, had mated with Christopher Durang, the playwright’s mentor, the result would be Noah Haidle’s Smokefall.

The successful production of a new play depends on the creative talents of the playwright’s collaborators in the areas of spatial design, costume, light, and aural environment. These theater artists are the midwives for the playwright’s child. Mr. Haidle is blessed to have Kevin Depinet, Ana Kuzmanic, David Weiner, and Lindsay Jones in his service. The many talents of director Anne Kauffman, whose clear knowledge of theatrical powers and obvious love for this play are like the gifts of a symphony conductor playing Mr. Haidle’s great score with world class musicians.

Whether his characters appear before birth, after death, or during life (dramatic time is from the Maker’s, not the characters’, viewpoint), the playwright’s overarching vision proclaims that every love must face sadness, that disappointment can overwhelm, but that to keep our family tree, to tend the best of our humanity, we must “love, anyways”. St. Paul’s words in a modern idiom. A theatrical  reconciliation of Eliot’s new and old worlds in Burnt Norton:

a new world

And the old made explicit, understood

In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

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