English | American Drama
L363 | 2217 | Wiles


L363 2217 WILES
American Drama

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

TOPIC: PUBLIC HISTORY, PRIVATE LIVES

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), Swimming to Cambodia (Gray), Buried Child
(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 objective examinations.