American Drama in the Age of Film

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Is theater really dead? Does the theater, as its champions insist, really provide a more intimate experience than film? If so, how have changes in cinematic techniques and technologies altered the relationship between stage and film? What are the inherent limitations of representing three-dimensional spaces in a two-dimensional one, and vice versa?
American Drama in the Age of Film examines the strengths and weaknesses of both the dramatic and cinematic arts to confront the standard arguments in the film-versus-theater debate. Using widely known adaptations of ten major plays, Brietzke seeks to highlight the inherent powers of each medium and draw conclusions not just about how they differ, but how they ought to differ as well. He contrasts both stage and film productions of, among other works, David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, Sam Shepard’s True West, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Margaret Edson’s Wit, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. In reading the dual productions of these works, Brietzke finds that cinema has indeed stolen much of theater’s former thunder, by making drama more intimate, and visceral than most live events.
But theater is still vital and matters greatly, Brietzke argues, though for reasons that run counter to many of the virtues traditionally attributed to it as an art form, such as intimacy and spontaneity. Brietzke seeks to revitalize perceptions of theater by challenging those common pieties and offering a new critical paradigm, one that champions spectacle and simultaneity as the most, not least, important elements of drama.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brietzke (adjunct, English, Suffolk Univ.) compares staged plays to their film and/or television adaptations to prove the intrinsic value of live drama. In chapter 1 the author questions the familiar validation of theater as 'live' and 'magical,' arguing instead that its defining qualities are spectacle and simultaneity. In chapter 2 he elaborates on the significance of the stage actor, who stands vicariously for the audience. The remaining chapters analyze ten plays, including the staples Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Death of a Salesman. There is frequent slippage between drama and theater, and for all Brietzke's emphasis on spectacle and the theories of Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, and Jerzy Grotowski, it is ironic that he focuses on written dramas that would almost all have made Aristotle proud. The book's value is in the play analyses; the film-theater juxtaposition often feels merely like an excuse for them. The work never reaches the theoretical breadth of Philip Auslander's Liveness (1999) or Peggy Phelan's Unmarked (CH, Jan'94, 31-2578), both of which provide much more insightful, albeit differing, analyses of the theater-film dynamic. In a final irony, the conclusion actually affirms Phelan's claim that the specificity of performance lies in its unrepeatability. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers."

“In his study of drama and film, Brietzke goes back to first principles, reconsidering the very basis for comparing the ‘liveness’ of theater with the mediatized reality of film and television. His discussion of the theory is fresh and provocative. A great deal of the book’s contribution is its original, thoroughly knowledgeable readings of plays and adaptations ranging from O’Neill, Hellman, and Williams to Wilson, Mamet, and Kushner. Brietzke’s recognition of the way drama is taught and thought about by most of today’s university teachers and students, with direct reference to the productions that are available on VHS and DVD, informs every chapter.”—Brenda Murphy, author of The Provincetown Players and the Culture of Modernity

“In this elegant and long-overdue book, drama and film emerge not as competitors per se but as collaborators who variously borrow and profit from their intertwined histories. At the same time, Zander Brietzke delivers a passionate defense of the theater, a reminder that even, and especially in an age of media, theater remains the most live and lively art.”
—Martin Puchner, author of Stage Fright: Modernism Anti-Theatricality, and Drama

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817315719
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 8/19/2007
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Zander Brietzke is Adjunct Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is editor of the Eugene O’Neill Review at Suffolk University, author of The Aesthetics of Failure: Dynamic Structure in the Plays of Eugene O’Neill, and coeditor of Jason Robards Remembered.

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