Dear John,

I agree with what you say, though as an actor ( English professor who
acts for fun in a Shakespeare ensemble), I think one could do a fabulous
and exciting performance of Sweeney Agonistes. I also saw a brilliant
performance of Murder in the Cathedral in the Cathedral at St. Andrews.
It was performed all through and around the audience. That seems to
affirm what you say about the comedies: he really had not figured out
that there are living humans with a much wider range of emotion than
religious ecstasy or despair. But I wonder why, then, you chose them. Do
you think they could be directed and acted in ways that would make them
work now?
P. S., of course he seemed much changed by human love when he finally
experienced it.

>>> John Angell Grant 11/07/11 1:31 PM >>>
Hi Nancy, Thanks for the thought. I am a theater person myself, and have
talked with other theater folk about the issue. Draw is always an issue.
My sense is that Eliot's plays have a smug "I know the secret to life"
feel to them, which is alienating and, in my view, paradoxically
unchristian--a link to his Puritan heritage. Here's a 1950 review by of
the The Cocktail Party, by William Barrett from the Partisan Review,
which Jewel Brooker includes in her Contemporary Reviews book, which
nails some of it, in my view. Barrett is referring to the 2 choices of
life offered in The Cocktail Party (2 choices represented by the
Chamberlaynes, and Celia):

“Here we must remember that Eliot, the last great product of the Puritan
mind, has never shown in his poetry any real belief in the possibility
of human love. The moment of love is presented always as the moment of
withdrawal and renunciation, the awful daring of a moment’s surrender,
one of ‘the things that other people have desired’; and consequently the
beauty of the world is never present in the fullness of joy, but always
with that painful clutch at the heart as at something taken away, lost,
uncapturable. No doubt, resignation is necessary to get through life at
all, and Freud himself stated that the aim of analytic therapy was to
enable the neurotic to bear the sufferings inevitable in human life; but
this is only half the picture, for the work of the analyst may also be
to liberate the patient for the positive joys that life can hold, even
perhaps for the possibility of love, and if the neurotic were told that
he is to be resigned only for resignation’s sakes, it is very unlikely
that he would have the strength to go on.
“I was surprised to read that one critic found in the play the gaiety
that Stendhal recommends for all art, for it seems to me that at bottom
the world of The Cocktail Party is the same empty world of Prufrock,
except that 37 years ago Eliot did not disguise his contempt for this
emptiness. So I feel at the heart of this play some immense tricherie
[cheating], or at least self-deception, for I can’t believe that Eliot
takes the Chamberlaynes as serious as he pretends to. Here again,
comparison with Sweeney Agonistes becomes instructive, for in this
earlier fragment Eliot fully realized all his hatred of human life and
really enjoyed himself in the raucous company of Doris, Sweeney,
Klipsteins, and Krumpacker*in comparison with whose vulgar vitality the
characters at the cocktail party are genteel skeletons. As a writer
Eliot has never really given us God’s plenty: the qualities of his
genius are not robustness and richness, but precision, terseness, and
intensity; and the shadow which haunts these qualities is a certain
tendency to thinness and brittleness that here in The Cocktail Party has
at last caught up with him.”

On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 9:57 AM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Dear John,

I would think you could learn more about that from theater people than
TSE enthusiasts. You might want to ask some theater faculty or

My guess is that they are not only rather outdated for contemporary
audiences but are in verse. I imagine directors would doubt that they
would draw. That's only a guess based on what is produced.

>>> John Angell Grant 11/07/11 12:48 PM >>> 
I'm writing a Master's Thesis on Eliot's 4 drawing room plays (Family
Reunion, Cocktail Party, Confidential Clerk, Elder Statesman). Does
anyone have thoughts about why they are rarely performed these days. I
set up Google Alerts for all 4 a few months back, and only one
production popped up, and that wa 6 rehearsed staged readings of The
Cocktail Party by the English-language theater in Abu Dhabi! Donmar did
a series a few years back. And there was an NYC production a year or so