Celebrated novelist Kurt Vonnegut once wrote a letter advising Loree Rackstraw, one of his writing students, that plays were easier to write than novels: "Write a play, lamb. The theaters are empty. You don't have to describe characters in depth. Simply put words in their mouths. Then a producer hires graceful, enchanting people to speak and move."
Amusing pith from one of America's boldest literary talents, for sure. But most playwrights and playwriting texts don't agree. Stuart Spencer, author of the The Playwright's Guidebook, refers constantly to the central action of a scene--not the words spoken by the characters but the subtext. For characters to seem believable on stage, they must emulate genuine human behavior--and people generally speak around issues rather than communicate them directly. The words a playwright puts in the actor's mouth are far less important than those deliberately left out: the subconsciously communicated words in the white spaces of the text.
One of the modern masters of things left unsaid is Patrick Marber. His play Closer is the story of four characters whose communication with one another is comprised almost entirely of lies. And yet it is a play as honest as many works of nonfiction. The romantic liaisons, breakups and sexual politics portrayed are the kind any viewer can relate to personally, though few are likely to admit it in polite company.
The original stage production of the play in London won numerous awards including the Laurence Olivier Award for best new play, and the 2004 film adaptation of the play directed by Mike Nichols received two Academy Award nominations.
Boise's newest theater company, Black Linen Productions, will tackle Closer at The Linen Building this week. The play features partial nudity and adult themes and is not recommended for children.