On Direct Address

I sometimes comment on articles and reviews over at the NYTimes.  Here is a comment I made to an article by my favorite arbiter of taste, Mr. Charles Isherwood.  The article was on Direct Address.  (Mr. Isherwood does not enjoy it.  Nor do I!)  You can read the article here:


Here is my comment:

Here here, Mr. Isherwood! When I attend the theater, the last thing I want is for the play, the writer, or the actors to talk to me! People talk to me all the time, every day. But when I go to the theater, I expect to be able to relax, get comfortable, maybe take a nice nap, and be left alone!

The audacity of writers who feel they can use just any narrative technique when they write a play! What is the theater coming to? There are clear rules on how this sort of thing is properly done. Deviation is disgrace–and the desire for deviation represents the deviation of desire! Speaking of which, I’m surprised Mr. Isherwood gave a pass to Wilder and Williams–the former is much too surreal, and the latter is much too erotically sensationalist to be taken seriously (and really, who talks like a character in a Williams play?) but perhaps Mr. Isherwood was just being kind. Well! Kindness is not what is called for–from strangers or from critics! We need more discipline! And while I applaud Mr. Isherwood for articulating the rules our more unruly artists should naturally follow, I fear he is unwilling to go further. We need more rules in the arts! Not less!

But regardless: bravo, Mr. Isherwood, bravo! Please keep directing your shining and piercing critical gaze (and wit!) into the dark corners of theatrical practice. You are doing us all a great service in sweeping out the muck with your penetrating insights. Your light is a beacon to all right-thinking patrons of the theater. What this broken world needs now more than ever is more theater critics (like you)!

Gratefully yours,
Dean Thropwelle

P.S.: I am afraid you are quite incorrect regarding Chekhov. But you are correct in your implication that no serious contenders for the title of greatest modern playwright (a coveted and important title, I am sure!) have arisen since the turn of the 20th Century. Our culture is in a state of collapse! Where are the playwrights who will pick up the sputtering torch of drama clearly dropped in the 19th Century?

I hope you agree!

  1. Nam Prik Pao said:

    Mr. Thropwelle,

    This may be of interest to you: I believe you may, in fact, be descended from the Wellthorpe family of England, Puritans who rose to prominence during the English Civil War. A Wellthorpe was instrumental in the pulling down of London theaters in 1648, and further saw that all players, playwrights, and dramaturgs were whipped; another oversaw the execution of Charles I. When Cromwell died, and the Cavaliers restored Charles II to power, one of the Wellthorpes, a professional anagrammaticist, changed the family name to Thropwelle, in hopes of escaping persecution. Still, many Wellthorpe/Thropwelles were rounded up and sent to American colonies in indentured servitude (you may come from this line), but a few escaped, and somewhere, in the archives of the British Museum, is a pamphlet written in 1662 by a namesake (and, I believe, a kinsman) of yours (!), railing against such innovations as female actresses. During the Victorian era, the English line reclaimed their name and lost an L somewhere along the line. Email me for information.

  2. Dear Sir or Madame,

    I am certainly sympathetic to the Thropwelle/Wellthorpe plight as you present it. While I am unaware of such a connection in my own family tree, the possibilities intrigue me and warm my heart. Generally, it is my mother who is the keeper of the family records, but I believe my Aunt Edna may know a thing or two here. She is, if nothing else, an authority on misplaced letters! At any rate, I am certainly interested in more information. My email is deanthropwelle at yahoo.com .


  3. Nam Prik Pao said:

    Dear Mr. Thropwelle,

    It is most exciting that you mention that you have an Aunt Edna (Thropwelle?), because a Miss Edna Welthorpe II here in London phoned in a terror alert to Scotland Yard and had my Soho restaurant closed, when she confused cooking odors for a chemical attack. It is because of her that I began to research her family: her mother was famous for writing letters to newspapers in objection to a certain young playwright who regularly thumbed his nose at the establishment, and who was subsequently beaten to death with a hammer, which only goes to show.

    Since I am now on a watch list, it is difficult for me to come to New York, so I am unfamiliar with the work of Mr. Rapp and much of what happens in your theatre. I eagerly await more of your comments in support of Mr. Isherwood.

    And I applaud your sensitive use of “Sir or Madame”; it is a happy accident, as I am in the midst of reassignment. But I will write more about your provenance, privately and anon.

    Nam Prik Pao (Mx.)

  4. Dear Mr. and/or Mrs. Nam Prik Pao,

    I must confess to being uncertain of Aunt Edna’s last name. I remember her introducing us to a series of Uncles over the years, and round about the age of 5 I lost count of the myriad nominative possibilities. She was always quite a bit eccentric!

    Being beaten to death with a hammer does not sound particularly pleasant! But I cannot say I’m surprised at such a thing popping up in the life of one who has “thumbed his nose at the establishment.” The establishment is not so keen on nose-thumbing! Indeed, it is not so keen on very much of anything at all. But that is for the best, I say.

    I’m sorry to hear that your kitchen was the victim of a chemical attack. I hope it was not too serious and that you were able to soldier on, if only for a little while. Still, I wouldn’t blame Miss Welthorpe–I imagine she was only doing her civic duty. I notice that your name refers to some sort of Asian chili paste and wonder if it is indicative of the sort of food you used to prepare? I do not like foreign food, myself, and wonder if you should not explore more properly bland foods in your establishment (should it re-open). I enjoy pasta in a nice white sauce. It’s not difficult to prepare.

    Regarding what happens in my theatre, I too, am unfamiliar with it, mostly because it insists on being unfamiliar to me. Perhaps when you are released from surveillance, you will find it more explicable than I have, but for the time being, I will tell you truthfully that surveillance-that-amounts-to-incarceration is a mercy compared to being subjected to some of the things to which I (and my wife, of course) have been subjected in the theatre.

    I wish you all good luck in your reassignment. To be honest, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but I imagine it will be quite a pleasant change of pace for you, whatever it means.

    I remain,


  5. Nam Prik Pao said:

    Dear Mr. Thropwelle,

    Thank you for your concern, and I am sorry for any confusion I may have caused you: my restaurant was not the victim of a chemical attack; it was, in fact, the odor of burning chili paste venting into the street which alarmed the passing Miss Welthorpe. In the transcript of her call to the authorities, she is recorded as having said, “I *am* in my right mind, Inspector. You cannot fool an old bluenose like me,” which I thought was very colourful of her.

    And my name actually *is* Nam Prik Pao, and I share it with a fiery condiment. Consequently, I was the butt of many a joke in my native land; imagine hearing “Chili today, hot tamale,” only in Thai, and you can have a sense of what I had to endure as a boy.

    But to happier things: my restaurant reopened shortly after the investigation (though my name has yet to be expunged from the lists of your ever-vigilant Department of Homeland Security), and if, on an excursion to London to see fare you might enjoy (perhaps an early play of the bard’s, as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company), you find yourself in the West End, do stop in to the restaurant which bears my name. I can make a Pad Thai for you without any chili in it, and with chicken. You will find its soft texture and overwhelming beigeness quite appealing, I think.

    Also, my thanks for your good wishes as to my reassignment.

    I become,

    Nam Prik Pao (Miss)

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