Deadly dramaturgs

Hello all! I hope you are enjoying summertime in ways that are relaxing, intellectually stimulating, and cooooool! For those of you in or around NC, I’ll let you in on our weather so far. It’s been 90+ degrees for 12 days or more since May began. I’m beginning to think that all the recent budget cuts have finally been absorbed into the atmosphere and Nature just decided to eliminate Spring entirely this year.

I write today because I couldn’t resist sharing that this week’s episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent centered its storyline on a death at an over-budget, over-hyped, and over-wrought Broadway production. I haven’t seen the episode in its entirety; however, the national dramaturgy listserv was all abuzz because the cast of characters included … wait for it … a DRAMATURG! Perhaps the first mention of that position on primetime television!

My quick quip to a colleague was that knowing Law & Order‘s own dramaturgy as a series I suspected this character was going to be an over-educated, under-appreciated male who commits the murder either as revenge for lack of attention or as a way to advance into a new, more prominent career. I won’t give away the ending, but I’m proud to say that my dramaturgical insights were pretty spot on.

It’s worth noting that three contemporary female playwrights

  • Theresa Rebeck (Spike Heels, The Understudy),
  • Diana Son (Stop Kiss, Satellites),
  • Marlane Meyer (Etta Jenks, Why Things Burn),

along with

  • playwright Eric Overmeyer (whose long collaboration with David Simon of The Wire fame began when they worked on Homicide: Life on the Streets; Overmeyer is now a producer on Simon’s new HBO series Treme)

were all formative in the early years of this particular Law & Order franchise.  From what I can tell none of these folks are involved in the most recent season, but the intimate relationship between Law & Order: Criminal Intent and the New York theater community is well established. In fact, after the tentpole series Law & Order was canceled there were articles bemoaning the loss of well-paying NYC-based production work. Criminal Intent had been shut down too; however, appeared on this summer’s NBC/USA schedule for an 8-episode “send-off,” which, if ratings remain strong, might be extended further. CBS’ The Good Wife films in New York and has filled some of the void, but with the cancellation of long-running daytime soap operas there is trouble ahead for NYC based actors and crew who look to television gigs to gain AFTRA credits, supplement low/no-paying theater gigs with more steady, if small-scale, paying work.

The aforementioned Law & Order episode certainly benefits from all the public attention focused on the Spiderman musical reboot and the removal/exit of Julie Taymor from the project, and I wonder if there might not be a little bit of playwright wish-fulfillment going on by making the dramaturg a running joke however true it may be that when people hear that term they have to blink and ask again, “What did you say?” and “What is that?” Below, courtesy of YouTube, you can find the episode’s first introduction of the dramaturg character. Notice that the scene designer calls him the “director’s assistant.”

The full episode, “Icarus,” will be rebroadcast on USA Network tonight (Tuesday, June 21) and you might be able to find it on Hulu or at USA’s homepage for a time thereafter.

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