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SOCIAL REALISM AND DEPRESSION-ERA AMERICA. American theatre and society in the 1920s The post-World War I context The Freudian bent of American drama.

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Presentation on theme: "SOCIAL REALISM AND DEPRESSION-ERA AMERICA. American theatre and society in the 1920s The post-World War I context The Freudian bent of American drama."— Presentation transcript:


2 American theatre and society in the 1920s The post-World War I context The Freudian bent of American drama in the 1920s: Arthur Richmans Ambush (1921), Sidney Howards They Knew What They Wanted (1924), George Kellys Craigs Wife (1925) and Eugene ONeills Strange Interlude (1928) The seeds of social unrest in the Jazz Age: The formation of the American Communist Party (1919), the Red Scare of 1920, the growth of unions and labor violence

3 Early examples of social realism The importance of the Theatre Guild (est. 1919) The influence of German expressionism on American drama in the 1920s The example of Elmer Rice: The Adding Machine (1923) and Street Scene (1929)

4 Eugene ONeill (1) ONeills early career – the sea plays and the association with the Provincetown Players: Bound East (1916); In the Zone (1917); and The Moon of the Caribbees (1918) ONeill in the early 1920s – Freudianism and social critique: Desire Under the Elms (1924); The Emperor Jones (1920); and All Gods Chillun Got Wings (1924)

5 Eugene ONeill (2) The Hairy Ape as a culmination of ONeills early work: The Hairy Ape was propaganda in the sense that it was a symbol of a man, who has lost his old harmony with nature, the harmony which he used to have as an animal and has not yet acquired in a spiritual way. Thus, not being able to find it on earth nor in heaven. he's in the middle, trying to make peace, taking the woist punches from bot' of 'em.... The subject here is the same ancient one that always was and always will be the one subject for drama, and that is man and his struggle with his own fate. The struggle used to be with the gods, but is now with himself, his own past, his attempt to belong. Eugene O'Neill, Interview (1924), in Playwrights on Playwriting, ed. by Toby Cole (1961). ONeills subsequent career – the quest for spiritual unity and its defeat by modernity: Marco Millions (1924); Days Without End (1933); and The Iceman Cometh (1939)

6 The transformation of American theatre and society in the 1930s (1) The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and its effects The radicalization of the American theatre: The current crisis has also been an artistic opportunity, bringing to light the intellectual and financial bankruptcy that has long dogged Broadway theatre, and exposing the cancers of triviality and social insensibility eating away at its heart. Ben Blake, The Awakening of the American Theatre (1935) The example of European Agit-Prop and American worker-artist groups such as the Theatre Union, the Labor Stage and the Prolet-Buehne: The agit-prop dramas so popular in the twenties and thirties are often specifically Marxist in their attempts to create an objective correlative to political and social problems. That is, they explicitly wed form to content, specificity to didacticism, [and] character to situation. … They frequently use real-life events to create an imaginatively rendered explication of the political truth as it was seen by left-wing theorists. Ira A. Levine, Left-Wing Dramatic Theory in American Theatre (1985) The example of Michael Golds Strike!

7 The transformation of American theatre and society in the 1930s (2) The limitations of the agit-prop model and the triumph of social realism The legacy of agit-prop The politicization of Broadway – the example of the season: John Wexleys Steel, Paul Siftons 1931, and Albert Maltzs Merry-Go-Round

8 Clifford Odets and Waiting for Lefty The importance of the Group Theatre (est. 1931) and the influence of its founders – Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford The politics of the Group Theatre: The impression has arisen that the Group Theatre is primarily interested in the production of so-called propaganda plays. This is false. The Group is essentially interested in plays that make for exciting and intelligent theatre. Harold Clurman, Letter to the Press (1936). Clifford Odets early life and career – the example of Awake and Sing! (1933) The significance of Waiting for Lefty: its influences and influence Odets subsequent work with the Group Theatre: Paradise Lost (1936) and Golden Boy (1937)

9 The Federal Theatre Project (1) The origins and establishment of the Federal Theatre Project: I am asked whether a theater subsidized by the government can be kept free from censorship. What we want is free, adult, uncensored theater. Harry Hopkins, Director of the Works Progress Administration, Speech to the National Theatre Conference (1935). The example of the Living Newspaper: Ethiopia; Triple-A Plowed Under; Injunction Granted; and One-Third of a Nation (all 1936)

10 The Federal Theatre Project (2) Early criticism of the Federal Theatre Project The controversy over Marc Blitzsteins The Cradle Will Rock (1937) The Dies Committee on Un-American Activities and the strangling of the Federal Theatre Project: 1. It is apparent from the startling evidence received thus far that the Federal Theatre Project not only is serving as a branch of the communistic organization but is also one more link in the vast and unparalleled New Deal propaganda machine. J. Parnell Thomas, New Jersey Republican, the House Un-American Committee, July 26, Miss Huffman says, They couldnt get any audiences for anything except Communistic plays. Now, gentlemen, I have here the proof that that is an absolutely false statement. We have, as sponsoring bodies for the Federal Theater, two hundred and sixty-three social clubs and organizations, two hundred and sixty-four welfare and civic organizations, two hundred and seventy-one educational organizations, ninety-five religious organizations, ninety-one organizations from business industries, sixteen mass organizations, sixty-six trade-unions, sixty-two professional unions, seventeen consumers' unions, twenty-five fraternal unions, and fifteen political organizations. Note, gentlemen, that every religious shade is covered and every political affiliation and every type of educational and civic body in the support of our theater. It is the widest and most American base that any theater has ever built upon. Nellie Flanagan, Director of the Federal Theatre Project, Evidence before the House Un-American Committee, December 1938.

11 The decline of left-wing drama in the late 1930s The passing of the Depression The effects of the Soviet-Nazi Non-Aggression Pact (1939) The turn of social realism from national to international subjects: Paul Greens Johnny Johnson; Clifford Odets Till the Day I Die; Sinclair Lewis It Cant Happen Here (all 1936) and Elmer Rices Judgment Day (1934) The later careers of the social realists: Eugene ONeill and the turn to subjectivity – Mourning Becomes Electra (1931) to Long Days Journey into Night (1956) Clifford Odets and the turn to Hollywood – The Big Knife (1948) to The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) Elmer Rice and the turn to Broadway – Flight to the West (1940) to the remake of Street Scene (1946)

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