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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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The Solace of Chocolate Squares. Thinking about Wallace Shawn 281


The Solace of Chocolate Squares Thinking about Wallace Shawn Bonnie MARRANCA Eugene Lang College/The New School (New York) For two-and-a-half decades a self-effacing, small, bemused guy who always looked middle-aged has been a regular presence in Hollywood movies that range from Manhattan, All That Jazz, The Bostonians, and The Princess Bride, to Toy Story and The Incredibles, and in popular television shows as well, including Murphy Brown, Taxi, and Clueless. All the while the greater part of his audience has been unaware that this same actor is also the author of some of the most perceptive dramas of American life being written for the contemporary theater. Dramatic works such as The Fever (1990) and The Designated Mourner (1996) get behind the facade of the extravagant 1990s to offer a devastating portrait of an affluent and complacent society isolated from the world’s tragedies by its self-involvement and lack of political understanding. Shawn had already started on his critique of ideologies in the contro- versial Reagan-era play Aunt Dan and Lemon (1985), which challenged liberal equivocation by offering an eccentric right-wing female character who is enamored of Henry Kissinger as a man of action. Now, with the catastrophe of September 11 and world terrorism shaping political discourse, his commentaries on society gain an even sharper focus. The 2004 revival of the play in New York suggested a new global, historical setting in the context of the Bush presidency and Iraq invasion, and mindful of the new documentary by Errol Morris, The Fog...

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