I will admit that I was expecting more from this book. With a title like “The Necessity of Theatre” it gives one the expectation that there is some great revelation in it. Woodruff, while quite articulate, takes far too long to get to his point. In the process of getting there he lost me, his audience, a bit. Then by the time he gets to the end, he seems to off-handedly disregard and almost go back on everything he wrote to that point.
The first half of the book is about being watched while the second half of the book is about watching. Which, in some way makes sense as the subtitle of the book is “The Art of Watching and Being Watched.” This is quite the challenge as he uses a very broad definition for what constitutes theatre, and then tries to narrow it down, but so loses his way that I was left wondering why he even wrote the book (now, I will admit, that I took a bit of a hiatus between the first and second halves of the book).
He does have gems along the way, I just wish he had a better editor or guide to help him write a more cohesive and well thought out line of reasoning.
This book is worth reading; if not for some good bits of wisdom that he doles out in a seeming random manner, then for the challenge of seeing where he’s going and figuring out if you agree with him or not.
Let me end this slight review with this…
He ends the book by saying that this book is not an answer to the people who claim that theatre is far from necessary (epilogue) because he believes that “theatre in our time is not powerful enough to have real enemies,” (last page of epilogue). He then goes on to say that he wants to support the entire boldness of the title of this book. This kind of writing deserves to be at the beginning of the book NOT at the end.
If you’ve this far, then you might be interested in this review over at The New York Times from Leah Hager Cohen