46 / CHRONICLESnSTAGEnWhat Became anLegend Most?nby David KaufmannLillian; Written by William Luce;nDirected by Robert Whitehead.nPoor Zoe. Poor William. Poor Lillian.nAs if it were a conspiracy to compensatenfor what they deemed a distortionnof the facts, the critics seized ZoenCaldwell’s one-woman show Lillian,nwritten by William Luce, as an occasionnto say more about Lillian Hellmannthan to discuss the biodrama theynwere offered. The most prevalent criticismnof Luce’s script, in fact, is that henmisrepresented Hellman by glossingnover the more controversial aspects ofnher life and by whitewashing her notoriousncareer as a playwright, a mendaciousnmemoirist, a relentiess Stalinist,nand a vindictive, self-servingncelebrity.n”While Mr. Luce’s Lillian admits tonHaws,” bemoaned Frank Rich in hisnreview for the Limes, “her flaws arennever as grave as those of her antagonists’nand her anger is always in thencause of right.” What Luce provides,nRich claims, is “a sanitized Hellmannportrait that, like all bowdlerized officialnbiographies, lacks the conflict andndepth essential to create a dramatic ornpsychologically gripping character.”nJohn Simon resented that “there isnnothing about what it was like to benmarried to a writer, Arthur Kober, andnvery littie about living with another,nHammett, except for some oftrehearsednincidents grown shopworn.nNothing about what it is like to be anwriter oneself, or about how onenevolved one’s politics and just whatnthey were. Nothing about Russia, verynlittle about Broadway and Hollywood,nand not much about literary and othernfriendships and enmities. A lot of thisnhas to do with Hellman’s ownnomissions. . . . The harshest bit ofnVITAL SIGNSnself-criticism is an understatementnsuch as ‘Alexander Woollcott oncensaid I looked like the prowhead on anwhaling ship.'”nBut why should we expect Hellmannto present herself in anything but anpositive light in a “biodrama”? Howncould Luce have fulfilled such annexpectation, yet remained true to thenformat?nThe problem here may have asnmuch to do with the form itself as withnLillian Hellman. In recent years, ournstages have suddenly become clutterednwith what many are calling then”monodrama” (though biodramanseems more germane). Regardless ofnits name, the genre goes back at leastnas far as 1959, when Hal Holbrooknappeared on Broadway in Mark LwainnLonight. Subsequent years introducednHenry Fonda as Clarence Darrow;nEmlyn Williams as Dylan Thomas;nJulie Harris as Emily Dickinson (innWilliam Luce’s Lhe Belle of Amherst);nJames Whitmore as Will Rogers; PatnCarroll as Gertrude Stein; and, ofncourse, Roy Dotrice in Brief Lives.nIf these successes are not enough,nthe past three seasons have seen, on ornoff Broadway: Donal Donnelly asnGeorge Bernard Shaw; KatharinenHoughton as Louisa May Alcott; AlecnMcGowen as Kipling; Edward Herrmannnas T.S. Eliot, and more recentlynas Siegfried Sassoon to Dylan Baker’snWilfred Owen; Kate Nelligan as VirginianWoolf; Andrew Robinson as JacknHenry Abbott; Jan Miner (who mostntheatergoers would recognize asnMadge from TV commercials, andnwho incidentally popped up briefly inn1982 as Winifred Wagner) as GertrudenStein to Marion Seldes as Alice B.nToklas.nAnd these are only the literary lives;nat least an equivalent number of historicalnfigures, musicians, paintersn(and even their models) have providedngrist for the mill. I also want to emphasizenthat the above list represents onlynwhat I’ve seen. Not even the Shubertsnor Variety could definitively accountnnnfor what I’ve missed, although I knownof at least two Zelda Fitzgeralds, onenRimbaud, and one Hemingway innonly the past two years, and there’s annO’Neill scheduled to arrive this spring.nThe theater runs the risk of becomingna dramatized version of the NortonnAnthology of Literature. What isnworse, our drama has succumbed tonthe culture’s obsession with celebritynand fame. The impulse to render thenlife of a writer on stage becomes particularlynirresistible, it would seem.nSince the biodramatist as a rule incorporatesnmany of the writer’s originalnwords from all available sources, henrelies on the notion that he is creatingnan inviolate or an accurate portrait;none which has been endorsed by thensubject, as it were, in absentia.nAlthough we might prefer to construensome benefit from the currentnabundance of biodramas (in the waynthat Isak Dinesen, for example, acquirednmore readers since the film Outnof Africa opened in the last few monthsnthan she did in the preceding 50nyears), the trend to immortalize writersnon stage seems more rooted at thisnpoint in celebrity for celebrity’s sake,nthan in any ambition to enlarge thenaudience for the work. Interest in thenpersonality, in the driving force behindnthe work, has eclipsed thenachievement which made the personnworthy of attention in the first place.nBut in the case of Lillian Hellman,nsuch a difference may be negligible. Asnwith a number of her contemporariesn— consider especially Capote andnMailer and even Tennessee Williamsn—the tack of fiction and the compassnof nonfiction became more negotiablenthan ever before. These writers’ livesnbecame fictions even as they presentedntheir fictions as if they were their lives.nThe more contemporary writers havenbeen part of and party to the culturalncraze with personality, as facilitated byntechnological and media developmentsnwhich, as Neil Postman hasnarticulated so well in Amusing Ourselvesnto Death, make all business inton