The theater, the cinema and ourselves (1947)

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half awake to the facts of life. Out of Saroyan mists a very real person suddenly emerges and then vanishes. It is perhaps something impish in Saroyan that likes to give us this disconcerting jolt, a jolt felt all the more in the purest Saroyan plays than in those that are Saroyan and water. But if we give way to this sort of thing all is lost. As there is, or used to be, a drink called "near Port" so there is a near Saroyan and it is not very exciting stuff, the skin of our teeth must be classed as near Saroyan and, though there are many witty situations and witty lines, it has feet of clay. A phcenix too frequent is near Saroyan too but, not being so ambitious, it is more palatable. The disembodied spirits have the charm of the slightly highbrow but not too highbrow charade, and it would be churlish to blame a charade for not being a play. Perhaps some of the greatest plays are those which have little to do with the Saroyan atmosphere but in which the author has deliberately built a bridge between what one may call the mystical and the realistic, a bridge on which we may linger and look both ways with little fear that it will give way beneath us. We have lately stood on the Strindberg bridge in there are crimes and crimes and on the Ibsen bridge in the master builder and also in the lady from the sea, though the former is a firmer structure than the latter. Perhaps the most baffling recent example of this type of play is Henry James's the turn of the screw, for though the bridge is there one end rests on the unknown. Yet both ends seem very human and it is a very human pity we feel for the bewildered boy for his misery often hovers, like our own, between two worlds, both inhabited by very human beings. Much, however, that seemed illusive in Henry James's novel seemed resolved in the play and we hope the experiment will not end with the turn of the screw, it was far too convincing. It may be that because no bridge is necessary Saroyan's plays remain a little uncanny yet a great influence on the modern stage, it would be the poorer without them, less elastic. His creations are at one and the same time puppets and dis- embodied spirits, and are we not also sometimes both at once? They must be enjoyed to be believed, the beautiful people has the quality of poetry though it is prose. It takes us into another world where nothing else matters. Does not our real world often seem an illusion too, such stuff as dreams are made of? Saroyan certainly shows up the cardboard rubbish of the hack routine play, and perhaps makes the plays that have life in them a little more alive, a little less certain. The characters become more individual for, paradoxical as it may seem, it is when doubts arise that individuality grows. But Saroyan itself must be taken neat, not self diluted or weakened by foolish imitators. We must learn what Liberty (or fantasy if you will) in the Saroyan sense means if we attempt Saroyan plays. "God made all His creatures free, Life itself is liberty," wrote James Montgomery, and that, as the Sunday Times remarks, is Saroyan's watchword. 17