For Len Jenkin, an award-winning but difficult American playwright, two qualities essential to theatre are wonder and heart.
Taking these terms, this article examines two perplexing plays that by incorporating material from the Grail story provide
entrance to his theatre. Dissolving and interpenetrating scenes in Dark Ride can be disorienting, yet the action is clear. The characters are drawn into a quest that brings them to a convention ballroom
where a thief places a stolen precious stone on a pedestal around which the characters stop dancing. Since another Jenkin
play utilizes material from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival in which the Grail is a precious stone, one can interpret the ballroom gem as a Grail image that functions in Western literature
as a motive for questing. Despite the lack of heart, because character interaction is minimal, the play has the wonder of
questing. Poor Folk’s Pleasure is a series of scenes in which characters interact, sing, and dance within a framework in which a boatman with a “beatific smile” arrives, but when none board his boat leaves. Since a miraculous vessel that transports questers on their adventure appears
in the anonymous Queste del Saint Graal, one can interpret the boat as the miraculous ship in the Grail legend. Despite the lack of wonder, because the characters
do not undertake the quest, the play has the heart of pleasure. Thus the two plays complement each other with each one dramatizing
just one of the two essential qualities of theatre. Other Jenkin plays, however, dramatize the two qualities integrated. By
paying attention to the presence or absence of quest and pleasure therefore, the critic can begin to appreciate Jenkin’s theatre
of wonder and heart.
Mac Wellman is an award-winning American playwright whose theatre can be daunting to a first-time spectator. Since he thinks
of his playFnu Lnu as a “new version of Aeschylus’Eumenides,” the classical play can provide entrance to the contemporary play but with adjustments for the experimental mode of presentation.
The Furies, for example, are singing sorceresses, and Orestes is an old anarchist reminiscing about the good old days. There
is a quester, however, and a quest that takes him beneath the play’s site to the old, lost city that is the Dionysian flux,
the source of imagery that is the basis of poetic theatre’s language (as opposed to the literal language of geezer or naturalistic
theatre) and of freedom of choice that is the basis of a political, moral, creative society. The spectator-reader is encouraged
to take the journey, for once the obstacles are overcome, the experience is very rewarding.