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The New Criterion

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February 2013

Comedy & condescension

by Kevin D. Williamson

On The Heiress, Dead Accounts, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens in
The Heiress.

There are many older plays that rely heavily upon our identification with long-abandoned sexual and marital norms for their dramatic power, and it requires a bit of work on the part of the audience to enter into a world in which infidelity or bastardy are life-and-death issues. For related reasons, contemporary plays about marriage and romance face a very high hurdle: In our time, there is so little at stake in sexual relations that additional elements often must be introduced in order to hold our attention. Nina Raine’s very popular Tribes, to take one example, would be one quirk short of a staged Wes Anderson film but for the elements extraneous to the romance at its heart, in this case the deafness ...

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Kevin D. Williamson is the theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure (HarperCollins).

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 31 February 2013, on page 36

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