Issue 142, Spring 1997
While The Paris Review has published a number of interviews on the craft of playwriting over the years (Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams among others) it has not offered its readers the stuff of the theater itself—plays, theatrical sketches, verse drama, whatever. One reason is that so often the lines of a play seem flat on the page without the agency of actors to give them life. Not that we haven't had the opportunity to publish plays. In the early years of the magazine Edward Albee sent us a playlet entitled The Sandbox. The undersigned accepted the work but made the mistake of offering a suggestion or two about one of the characters—that the grandmother might be toned down a bit. This so miffed Albee that he had the work withdrawn. He said about the play later (indeed, in a Paris Review interview): “I’m terribly fond of The Sandbox. I think it’s an absolutely beautiful, lovely, perfect play.”
Perhaps the ongoing reticence to publish plays goes back to this unfortunate experience—the thought that playwrights are far more sensitive to editorial suggestions than fiction writers.
In any case, last autumn the editors of The Paris Review put aside their quals and offered a two-thousand-dollar prize for the best verse play. The response was extraordinary. Over one thousand plays in verse of varied forms were received … as well as over a hundred plays sent in by writers unaware of the “verse only” stipulation. The quality of the latter was such that it was determined to accept these as well—the final choices for this issue being two dramas and one verse play. The cripple of Inishman by the brilliant young playwright Martin McDonagh, give the readers the longest selection of this magazine since the publication of Philip Roth’s short novel Goodbye, Columbus.
The submissions, of course, ranged in style and content across an entire spectrum—from the radically “experimental” to the overtly political (“issue” plays), from the domestic comedy through the bedroom farce to tragedy. Many of the verse plays were based on Greek tragedies or Shakespeare, i.e., a sequel to Romeo and Juliet.
There were oddities. The plays by different playwrights centered on jars of formaldehyde sitting on stage, one of which contained a baby, the other the foot of a man who has murdered the protagonist’s father. Those who enjoy such things will be delighted to find among the contents of this issue a poem about General Daniel Edgar Sickles, the Union officer who lost a leg at Gettysburg, had it preserved, put in a box and donated to the Smithsonian, which he would visit on occasion to pay his respects.