The American Stage: Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner

Overview

Here is the story, told firsthand through electric, deeply engaged writing, of America's living theater, high and low, mainstream and experimental. Drawing on history, criticism, memoir, fiction, poetry, and parody, editor Laurence Senelick presents writers with the special knack "to distill both the immediate experience and the recollected impression, to draw the reader into the charmed circle and conjure up what has already vanished." Through the words of playwrights and critics, actors and directors, and ...
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Overview

Here is the story, told firsthand through electric, deeply engaged writing, of America's living theater, high and low, mainstream and experimental. Drawing on history, criticism, memoir, fiction, poetry, and parody, editor Laurence Senelick presents writers with the special knack "to distill both the immediate experience and the recollected impression, to draw the reader into the charmed circle and conjure up what has already vanished." Through the words of playwrights and critics, actors and directors, and others behind the footlights, the entertainments and high artistic strivings of successive eras come vividly, sometimes tumultuously, to life.
Observers from Washington Irving and Fanny Trollope to Walt Whitman and Mark Twain evoke the world of the 19th-century playhouse in all its raucous vitality. Henry James confesses his early enthusiasm for playgoing; Willa Cather reviews provincial productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin and Antony and Cleopatra. The increasing diversity and ambition of the American theater is reflected in Hutchins Hapgood's account of New York's Yiddish theaters at the turn of the century, Carl Van Vechten's review of the Sicilian actress Mimi Aguglia, Alain Locke's comments on the emerging African-American theater in the 1920s, and Ezra Pound's response to James Joyce's play Exiles and theatrical modernism. Enthusiasts for the New Stagecraft, such as Lee Simonson and Djuna Barnes, are matched by champions of pop culture such as Gilbert Seldes and Fred Allen. S. J. Perelman lampoons Clifford Odets; Edmund Wilson acclaims Minsky's Burlesque; Harold Clurman explains Stanislavski's Method; Gore Vidal dissects the compromises of commercial playwriting. A host of playwrights-among them Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Lorraine Hansberry, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, David Mamet, and Tony Kushner-are joined by such renowned critics as Stark Young, George Jean Nathan, Brooks Atkinson, and Eric Bentley.

"A dazzling collection of the greatest writing on theater ever assembled in one book."
-Andre Bishop, Artistic Director, Lincoln Center Theater

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Editor Senelick (recipient of the George Jean Nathan Prize for dramatic criticism) has done an excellent job of selecting a wide-ranging, historically significant selection of theater reviews, essays, memoirs, diary entries, and criticism. Extending through time with pieces by such recognizable writers as Washington Irving, Walt Whitman, and Mark Twain, as well as Henry Louis Gates, Susan Sontag, and Tony Kushner, this collection also includes lesser-known writers such as Olive Logan, who wrote "About Nudity in the Theatre" in 1866, and Congregational minister Rollin Lynde Hartt, who discusses melodrama as a positive benefit to the working class and its newfound leisure. Many of the writings included here can be found only in volumes that are not indexed and are housed in archives and rare-book collections. VERDICT This is not a documentary history or a survey of American theater and therefore stands somewhat alone on the theater studies shelf. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy here, and readers who love theater as well as history will be entertained for many hours.—Susan Peters, Univ. of Texas, Galveston
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598530698
  • Publisher: Library of America, The
  • Publication date: 4/15/2010
  • Pages: 850
  • Sales rank: 1,408,658
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 8.14 (h) x 1.49 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurence Senelick, editor, is Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University and a recipient of the George Jean Nathan Prize for dramatic criticism. His award-winning books include The Age and Stage of George L. Fox; The Chekhov Theatre: A Century of the Plays in Performance; and The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre. He is also a professional actor, director, and translator who has staged a number of American premieres.
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