A strong story

Brookfield Place (It’s About Whether You Can Do It At All) ©MAIERMOUL
Brookfield Place (It’s About Whether You Can Do It At All) ©MAIERMOUL

AUDIENCE MEMBER

You mentioned that playwrights today write great characters, they have great ideas, but very few write great stories. I just wondered what you think is a great story.

SONDHEIM

I didn’t use the word great. That’s not one of my favorite words because it implies a value judgment. I said that it’s very hard to write narratives, very hard to write stories.

I happen to like strong narratives. I’m a big plot fan. But I don’t think it’s necessary to have one. I mean, A Streetcar Named Desire doesn’t have much of a plot. But it sure has a strong story. And by story, I mean something that takes you in a state of tension from scene to scene and moment to moment, as opposed to just inundating you with colors and moods. That’s all. Something that keeps your attention going for two hours and doesn’t let you off the hook. And that could be a comedy. That could be Chekhov. It could be a murder mystery. But it must have something to keep you going.

Anyway, inventive narrative is very hard to do, so it isn’t about “great” or even “good,” it’s about whether you can do it at all. I’ll bet if you made a list of, say, twenty plays over the last five years, there might be two that had a real plot. You might have enjoyed some of the others, but I’ll bet it was the acting, I’ll bet it was a scene, a character, Wasn’t that moment wonderful when . . .? as opposed to a substantial two-hour experience.

Stephen Sondheim, Inside the Actors Studio