Who’s Romantic, and Who’s the Fool?

Let’s talk about romance.

A while back, I went to the theater to see a play called “Romantic Fools.” It was a local production of an off-Broadway hit (perhaps it was on Broadway at some point – I don’t know.)

From the promotional material, I thought it would be a nice evening out for my wife and I – I even pulled some strings and got free tickets. Should be great, right? Light-hearted romantic romp, some good jousting back and forth about the funny conflicts of the sexes, some situation comedy, ending with the guy getting the girl of his dreams, etc… you know what I mean – romance.

I should have known better. This is modern theater after all.

It had nothing to do with romance – it was all about sex to the lowest common denominator, and it really ticked me off – and it made us leave the theater even before intermission.  This had nothing to do with the acting. Some of the actors were quite talented. It had nothing to do with the sets which were done tastefully and creatively. It had everything to do with the writing. Someone who doesn’t know the first thing about romance had the audacity to call this a romantic play. No. It wasn’t.

Before I get more specific with my critique of the debasing of love and romance in our modern culture, let me make a few things clear about what I believe as a writer and, even, audience member concerning love, romance, and sex in literature or performing arts.

There are certain things in my own writing that I would never describe or never say because I believe they would be completely unnecessary and detract from the story rather than enhance the story. But I understand how a well phrased word, even a word that makes some people uncomfortable, can add the force or effect of a scene or situation. If a writer includes a scene that visually I may be uncomfortable with but is crucially necessary to get across an emotion or effect that could not be achieved any other way, then I’m personally okay with that. I don’t believe that every piece of literature, play, or movie needs to be PG. We live in a messy and even funny world where crazy things sometimes happen. I get that, and I’m okay with portraying that.

But, when we devolve romance to nothing more than a degrading spectacle of gratuitous sex that shows no consequences, no love, no romance, and no reality, then I call it lazy, modern writing.

We see it all the time. Just turn on the TV. Just watch a comedy in the cinema. Pick any one. It doesn’t matter. They are all the same.

Big laughs – at what? Hookers? Sado-masochism? Anything-goes no consequences decisions? The degradation of women? All of this was being portrayed in this play as the epitome of romance.

The comedy writers of today have bought into the lie that all the public wants – all the public needs is a few dirty jokes, a few degradating images and then they’ve done their job.

Where’s the creativity? Where’s the plot-lines that speak of true tensions between real men and real women?

Where are the writers who believe it is more effective to understate and allude – leaving the audience or reader to imagine or think through things?

You’ve probably seen this quote from Hitchcock before:

“Suspense is like a woman. The more left to the imagination, the more the excitement…”

I would say that good romance is like that too. Say a lot through what you don’t say. That, in my estimation, is one of the true marks of a good writer. One can be vulgar without swearing. One can be alluring and romantic without having to be on a nude beach.

I really felt bad for those actors who had to “act” like they were being romantic in a play that wasn’t remotely about romance.

Perhaps it’s time to for me to put up and write the kind of romance I’ve been rambling about here. Stay tuned.

What’s your take on all of this?