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Codifying the National Self

Spectators, Actors and the American Dramatic Text


Edited By Barbara Ozieblo and María Dolores Narbona-Carrión

Theater has always been the site of visionary hopes for a reformed national future and a space for propagating ideas, both cultural and political, and such a conceptualization of the histrionic art is all the more valuable in the post-9/11 era. The essays in this volume address the concept of «Americanness» and the perceptions of the «alien» – as ethnic, class or gendered minorities – as dealt with in the work of American playwrights from Anna Cora Mowatt, through Rachel Crothers or Susan Glaspell, and on to Sam Shepard, David Mamet, Nilo Cruz or Wallace Shawn. The authors of the essays come from a multi-national university background that includes the United States, the United Arab Emirates and various countries of the European Community. In recognition of the multiple components of drama, the essays for the volume were selected in order to exemplify different aspects and theories of theater studies: the playwright, the play, the audience and the actor are all examined as part of the theatrical experience that serves to formulate American national identity.


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INTRODUCTION. Codifying the National Self. Spectator, Actor and the American Dramatic Text 11


INTRODUCTION Codifying the National Self Spectators, Actors and the American Dramatic Text Barbara OZIEBLO University of Málaga Almost a century ago, William Archer claimed that the sand dunes of Provincetown had witnessed the birth of the “New American Drama”; in the intervening decades, the art theater of America that developed from those humble beginnings has shown itself to be more diverse, more experimental and more innovative than its founders could ever have imagined. George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell, together with the aspiring playwrights Jack Reed and Eugene O’Neill, founded the Prov- incetown Players in 1916: they were brought together by their opposi- tion to the war raging in Europe, their critical assimilation of Freud’s explorations of the unconscious, and their belief in the cathartic proper- ties of the theater for the individual and for the nation, and in this, they did not differ much from theater practitioners of today. Cook had long dreamed of promoting a “possible American Renaissance” (Glaspell 244); during one of his visionary trances he scribbled on some scrap of paper words that his wife would, in a labor of love, eventually retrieve and transcribe: Suppose the nascence depends not on blind evolutionary forces, involving the whole nation, but on whether or not the hundred artists who have in them potential power arrange or do not arrange to place themselves in vital stimulating relationship with each other, in order to bring out, co-ordinate and direct their power. Suppose the stage of economic, political and social...

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