L363 2098 WILES
American Drama

10:10a-11:00a MWF (30) 3 cr.


The American stage has often reflected historical events and social conflicts of its era, and the play itself is a good form for depicting political conflict, since it resembles public events such as trials, debates, and even strikes or demonstrations. We will survey American drama in the Twentieth Century to see how the serious theater has responded to the demands of history and of emerging social groups (such as immigrants, African Americans, women, gays, etc.). Several of our plays deal with turning-points in modern American history: the erosion of the American success myth, the Great Depression, totalitarian threats in World War II and the backlash of McCarthyism, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War. These plays reflect public events, but they often depict them through the personal stories of private individuals, and some playwrights avoid dramatizing social issues altogether–instead they depict the private lives of characters who seem to be cut off from society. We will examine these two approaches to play writing–which some great American dramatists have managed to incorporate into the same play–to test the notion that “the personal is the political” (originally stated by feminists, but now voiced by many social groups). We will ask: in which cases have some of our leading playwrights succeeded best through the direct depiction of public history, and at which times have they chosen to focus on private lives, to reveal society indirectly through the personal and individual approach? And can the two methods be blended?

Readings will include Long Day’s Journey into Night (O’Neill), The Crucible (Miller), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Williams), A Raisin in the Sun (Hansberry), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Albee), Glengarry Glen Ross (Mamet), A Lie of the Mind (Shepard), Two Trains Running (Wilson), The Heidi Chronicles (Wasserstein), and Angels in America (Kushner). Some of these plays are available on video, and we will watch excerpts in class and will view a few of the full plays in evening sessions. We will also sample live productions available in Bloomington during the semester, and students will be responsible for writing several short reviews of plays which they see on stage or in video showings throughout the semester. Students will also write two longer papers (6-8 pp.) and take two examinations.