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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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Making Middlebrow Theater in America 21


Making Middlebrow Theater in America David SAVRAN City University of New York Historians of American culture routinely consider the 1920s a golden age of the commercial theater. Although they may debate the quality of the ore, they cannot ignore its prodigious quantity. For theater flourished as never before during its long history in the United States. Broadway was the vibrant center of theatrical activities, a “paradise for play- wrights,” in Brenda Murphy’s words (Murphy 289). On the average, more than 200 new productions opened each year on the Great White Way, peaking with 264 during the 1927-28 season. That same year, there were seventy-six theaters in New York City used for so-called legitimate productions, twice as many as had been available only twelve years before (Poggi 47-8). Eugene O’Neill was hailed the inheritor of the mantle of Shakespeare, Sheridan, Ibsen, and Shaw, while dramas like What Price Glory, Show Boat, and Street Scene became certified Broadway hits (Eaton, “The Strangling of Our Theatre” 48). New York’s prosperity could not, however, disguise the fact that commercial theater was in trouble. For the proliferation of offerings was in part the result of increasingly short runs. Moreover, the road had declined pre- cipitously. The number of theatrical companies on tour had dropped from over 300 at the beginning of the twentieth century to a yearly average of about sixty for most of the 1920s (Poggi 30). As one pro- ducer explained, “the motor [automobile], the movie, the radio, and managerial stupidity have all...

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