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February 17, 1980 - Image 15

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Page 6-Sunday, February 17, 1980-The Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily-Sunday, F

A long day's 'Journey'

Making the world maize an

into th
By Joshua Peck
Journey to the Center of the Theater
Walter Kerr
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1979
332 pages, $12.95
Along with the general mechanics of the way they
earn their livings, fictionalists and non-fictionalists
share at least one other quality: a disdain for theater
critics. While typical authors must slave over their
manuscripts for months or years before they see so
much as a word of it in print, all the major American
critics - Clive Barnes, John Simon, and Emory Lewis
among them - get to see little bits and pieces of their
eventual submissions to a publisher printed under their
bylines several times a week. Then, when the mood
strikes them, they can merrily amble down to the
"morgues" of their respective newspapers, leaf
through past issues, and select the reviews that seem
to them most revealing of their erudition and scholar-
ship. They tie the selections together with a dashed-off
five-page introduction, and (with the expletives of
other writers echoing in the background) they have a
bestseller on their hands.
Given the facility of the effort, it is somewhat sur-
prising that I find Walter Kerr's Journey to the Center
of the Theater so very intriguing and worthwhile a
compendium of his writings. These are, after all, the
very same views the renowned critic has been airing
for months of Sundays over the last decade in the Arts
and Leisure section of the New York Times.
Perhaps the explanation for Journey's prominence
in its category lies in Kerr's prelude to the work, which
turns out not to be quite the slap-dash linkage between
the various pieces such introductions tend to be. He
reminisces about how dismally-dark Broadway
seemed to be at the start of the 1971 season: " 'My God,
it's a ghost town,' " he remembers himself saying.
"Here was the one-time center of the American
theatrical world. And there was no one on the street."
But "suddenly, in the summer of '74, Broadway box of-
fices took in one million dollars more than they had the
previous year. . . After that the arithmetic went
crazy; each succeeding season set a new record."
Journey, then, is a chronicle of the theater's odyssey
from one of its most cheerless periods to its current
When Edward Albee visited the Michigan campus
last year, he reported that he views the chief function
of theater writers as the education of the theater-going
public. He said Kerr did not meet this demand, and
claimed that Kerr himself believed it unnecessary that
critics be any more knowledgeable about the theater
than an average reader. That Kerr ever voiced those
thoughts is doubtful to begin with; Albee's claim comes
to look even more ludicrous as Journey unfolds. The
book serves as a primer on the intrusion of hitherto ver-
boten theatrical forms and styles into the commonplace
In a piece called "The Legacy of the Avant-Garde,"
Kerr pleads with his reader not to dismiss such ap-
proaches out of hand :
"A correspondent has sent me a clipping and I
am fascinated by it for a very special reason. It is a
Variety review of Thornton Wilder's Our Town
written immediately after its out-of-town opening
forty years ago, and it is highly unfavorable. Do
you know why it is unfavorable? Variety's man
found the play far too avant-garde for his taste."
But Kerr himself is at heart a conservative about the
theater, and he exhibits a healthy measure of skep-
ticism of his own about the new wave. He recalls a lec-
ture given by avant-garde pasha Peter Brook, in which
Joshua Peck is co-editor of the Daily's Editorial

e Sunday Timies

Brook argued that any fully prepared theatrical prod-
uction was necessarily "anti-life," for its very lack of
spontaneity. Kerr's reaction hits the nebulous nail on
the head. He asks, "If there was to be no rehearsal for
the stage, only freedom and spontaneity, how are we to
arrive at quality, or even know it when we find it? You
can't weed something out after you've done it."
. For years, Kerr's opinions have been as important as
any New York critics' to the success or failure of newly
opened shows, and his favorable comments inevitably
appear high up in the advertising copy of shows whose
producers have any sense at all about what it takes to
succeed. In view of his prominence, Kerr wears his
badge with remarkable humility. Not only does he
'avoid the pontification in which many of his colleagues
indulge, he actually lets his readers in on experiences
where he findshimself the educatee. It seems that get-
ting acclimated to the drama produced by blacks and
Hispanics over the last decade - much of which is
rather violent - was for Kerr a somewhat trying ex-
perience. He takes up one instance in a short piece
'called "The Uneasy Audience," concerning his first
exposure to Miguel Pinero's Short Eyes, a bloody work
that takes place in a prison. During a bit in the second
act when an inmate graphically describes the pleasure
of child molesting, Kerr remembers glancing around
the audience:
"... and what I saw startled┬░ me. Ap-
proximately half of the audience was deliberately
Not Looking.
"It was listening, Ifeel quite sure; I doubt that
anyone missed much of the nervous confession,
But here were people deep in study of their
programs, for undue lengths of time-not bored,
"Something was happening here. . . Instead of
provisionally sharing an emotion onstage in the
ordinary way, they were testing - maybe attem-
pting to tame - an emotion they would actually
have felt in their living rooms, or on the streets.
The line had been crossed: imagination had
surrendered to an actual, and disturbing,
possibility. "

Kerr does not by any means limit himself solely to
the sort of observations that could only be made after
the advent of the new wave; one of the longer sect.ions
of the book is devoted to the critic's prattling on the
length, breadth, and width of various actors' peculiar
varieties of talent.
And he does provide a refreshing mixture of new
ideas and comfortably dated ones in the section called
"A Second Look," in which he mulls over classics and
near-classics that predate the decade. He picks up on
the chic supposition that George and Martha of Albee's
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are not the bitchily
married couple they would seem ostensibly to be, but
actually a bitchily involved gay twosome, thinly
cloaked. Ultimately, he discards the notion (as Albee
would have all critics do, the playwright claims), but
not before considering the ramifications of accepting
the popular notion:
". . .they mythical child is used as a club: each
accuses the other of molesting the boy sexually,
with Martha breaking down bathroom doors to
get at him nude in the tub. To heterosexual
audiences, at least, this particular form of most
unsentimental spite does smack of homosexuality
rather than heterosexuality. And so an ex-
planation for something that seemed to require
explanation has been devised by gossips, surrep-
titiously imposed upon the play."
The book's single most detrimental shortcoming is,
the author's all-pervasive kindness. One begins to lose
respect for his glowing comments upon reaching the
47th with nary an objection to any directorial decision,
acting style, or set design. But then, the Times critic
has never been one to point up a production's
weaknesses - he is an avid and unashamed lover of
the whole idea of the drama, who much prefers to revel
in its glories than to condemn its folly. Besides, how
can one object to his sheer advocacy when it comes
packaged in such well-metered, rich language:
"We know that the strange rustle of slippered feet,
the heartbeat, the swift and untraceable flight of
thought that are uniquely Shakespeare's exist, exist

By Julie Engebrecht
ERE WAS but one school on
Bill's list of universities. The
Ivys, the other Big Ten schools,
or Stanford didn't matter - those
places only existed to compete with
Michigan on the athletic field.
All the time he was growing up he at-
tended the football games with his
parents, both Michigan alumni. They
dressed in maize and blue, which were
the only colors tolerated on those days.
Marilyn wasn't from Michigan, but
she was well aware of the University's
academic reputation. It cost twice as
much to attend as her own state's
university, but encouraged by a local
group of Michigan alumni and assisted
by their financial support, she was able
to head for Ann Arbor in the fall.
There is a certain mystique about
Michigan alumni, even though they are
simply former students. They are most
often stereotyped as successful people
who support the University with hefty
donations and who drench themselves
in maize and blue during fall football
weekends. That characterization,
however, is true of only a vocal
minority of alumni.
The University often advertises itself
with elitist claims about its academic
and athletic prowess, its outstanding
faculty, the high quality students, and
its international reputation. Its treat-
ment of the University's 300,000 living
alumni is no less pompous-sounding. A
propaganda report on University
alumni might be handled in this way:
"Our alumni are the best because the
University is highly selective of its
students ... The students are proud of
the University's combined athletic and
academic achievement. . . They. are
by and large successful professionals."
No wonder Michigan State fans talk
about those "arrogant asses" of Ann
Every college or university has
alumni - it's one of the facts of life in
the ivory tower. So with the exception of
identifying colors, University of
Michigan alumni can't be differen-
tiated from alumni hailing from Yale or
Purdue. Or can they?
Julie Engebrecht covers the Univer-
sity Administration for the Daily.

"I guess there's a kind of a feeling
that there's a special Michigan per-
son," says Michael Radock, vice-
president for University relations and*
development, whose job involves
dealing with alumni on a regular basis.
"There are the Ivys. I would think
there's a Princeton type. There's a
Harvard type, a Dartmouth type,
Amherst. . ." What emerges is the
classic "Harvard of the midwest"
definition. A Michigan alumnus is
bright, yet most of the Eastern snob-
bishness or high class Berkeley in-
tellect is conspicuously absent.
According to Radock and Bob For-
man, executive director of the Alumni
Association, identification of oneself as
a University of Michigan graduate
evokes an instant response, regardless
of personal qualities.
"Our mental computer goes 'click'
and the screen comes up: great school,
international stature, bright students,
liberal - sometimes too liberal - good
academically as well as athletically,
forefront of knowledge, great research.
That's the screen that comes up," says
Radock. "When they meet you as a new
graduate, they say 'She must be pretty
good. She made it through there. She
was accepted there.' or 'He has three
degrees from Michigan, four
degrees' . . ."
Forman acknowledges that while a
degree from the University isn't
necessarily a guarantee of a job, a
graduate or representative of the
University can rest on at least a few of
those academic laurels.
"You find that people think more
highly of you without knowing what
your personal qualities are," he says.
"It's almost too bad; the judgement is
made before you can prove them
But who's complaining? Just as a
degree from the University of Michigan
can mean more to an employer than a
diploma from a smaller and not so
established institution, a recent
graduate can always find a friend in the
employer category who is also an
alumnus from the University of
Michigan. These "Michigan connec-
tions" can help the recent graduate
meet the right people.
"If somebody came to me with a

The prosperous tale
of Michigan alums,

Michigan degree, I'd consider it a big
factor," says Dave Kaplan, a 1955
graduate of the business administration
school and resident of Birmingham.
Kaplan said he is familiar with the
University's academic standards, and
is fairly well assured he would be hiring
a quality employee.
"You have to look back at who it is
that goes to Michigan in the first
place," he says.
But the value of a diploma from a
highly respected institution is merely
one factor. The bond between Michigan
alumni of all ages is at least as strong,
and certainly more exclusive. The
commonality of attending Michigan
reaches into the professional and social
lives of many alumni. In Washington
D.C., for example, student summer in-
terns from the-University are each
assigned a Michigan alumnus to make
them feel at home away from home.
The idea is that common attendance at
the ,same school provides some
security, as well as automatic frien-
dship. Many students say the alumnus
sponsor gets more from the
arrangement than the usually-skeptical
student, yet it is often an important
connection for future employment.
Also twice a year, in New York, many
of the 600 Michigan graduates in that
city who are media professionals
gather for lunch and share the common
experience of being a Michigan
graduate. And in numerous other cities
across the country alumni clubs get
together for late summer picnics, or to
watch Michigan's football team battle
Ohio State's on television.
OU CANNOT go anywhere
without meeting a Michigan
graduate," Forman declares.
He tells of the University giving an
honorary degree to a noted American
governmental figure, the news of which
was printed in the Michigan Alumnus
magazine. Six weeks later the man was
in a small African village. As he walked
into this village, a man came up, shook
his hand, and congratulated him on
becoming an alumnus of the University
of Michigan.
And Forman, who committed the sin
of garnering his undergraduate degree

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