L363 1966 HARTNETT
American Drama

9:30a-10:45a TR (20) 3 cr.


American plays that directly dramatized labor struggles or explored the many turbulent economic shifts of the twentieth-century are a testament to the political power of the theatre. Such plays preserve dissenting voices that were instrumental in shaping America and are important in the study of American cultural history because they were often written from the viewpoint of the politically or economically disenfranchised. The work of mainstream playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill, Clifford Odets, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, and David Mamet has often been concerned with the intersections between the rapidly changing economic forces and the values, ideals, and morays that construct American cultural life. The plays of John Howard Lawson, Robert Sklar, and Marc Blitzstein provide us with examples of rhetorical justifications for labor organizing and militancy, with which popular audiences were asked to identify. Emphasizing the political as well as the emotional complexities, the plays of John Wexley, Maxine Klein, and OyamO directly address historical events, such as strikes, and the popular responses to them. Working with Caesar Chavez, Luis Valdez’s work with El Teatro Compesino redefined theatre as an organizing and consciousness-raising tool, much inspired by Bertolt Brecht. Reading these playwrights and more, we will examine the development of American theatre in terms of its relationship to labor and economic history. We will look at what developed on the stage, but we will also be interested in how the structure and nature of theatre groups also adapted to confront the social changes impelled by the Great Depression, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights movement, and the recessions of the past few decades. Issues of race and gender will often be inseparable from our examination of labor struggles. We will use labor history to read plays and we will use plays to read labor history. The course will investigate the evolution of political dissent on the American stage and theorize about the limits, scope, and form both mainstream and radical theatre took in twentieth-century America. The course will be co-taught with Professor Steven Ashby from Labor Studies.

Readings will include The Hairy Ape (Eugene O’Neill), The Adding Machine (Elmer Rice), Marching Song (John Howard Lawson), Stevedore (Robert Sklar), Let Freedom Ring (Albert Bein), Waiting for Lefty (Clifford Odets), Strike Song (J.O. & Loretta Carroll Bailey), Strike! (William Dorsey Blake), Steel (John Wexler), The Cradle Will Rock (Marc Blitzstein), The Glass Menagerie (Tennessee Williams), All My Sons and Enemy of the People (Arthur Miller), A Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hansberry), Huelguistas (Luis Valdez), The Fury of Mother Jones and Boston Remembers (Maxine Klein), Glengarry Glen Ross (David Mamet), Heroes and Saints (Cherrie Moraga), I am a Man (OyamO), and the history text, Who Built America?: Working People and the Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture and Society. The class will also take advantage of several live productions in Bloomington, which will include Miller’s All My Sons and some of Valdez’s short plays. Students will be assigned short response papers, two formal papers (6-8 pages), and a mid-term and final exam.