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Instructor Class Description

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Stefka G Mihaylova
DRAMA 476
Seattle Campus

Modern American Theatre and Drama

Major forces shaping modern American theatre, Eugene O' Neill to the present. Leading dramatists, directors, and designers of the post-World War II era. Experiments such as the Federal Theatre Project, Group Theatre, and Living Theatre. Prerequisite: DRAMA 302.

Class description

What is an American Play? The US Dramatic Canon and the Culture Wars

This course examines the American dramatic canon: the plays and playwrights with which all contemporary US theatre makers and spectators are expected to be familiar. The critics who composed the first version of the canon in the early twentieth century insisted that their sole criterion for inclusion was “good writing.” Their selection, however, included only works by white male playwrights, exposing the bias underlying this seemingly neutral criterion. During the second half of the twentieth century, the canon was repeatedly redrawn in order to reflect more justly the diversity of artists, spectators, and the stories they shared in multiple performance venues.

The plays for this course have been selected for the controversies they provoked. These controversies illuminate the political and social biases and aesthetic expectations of artists, critics, and general audiences throughout the twentieth century. For instance, the famous quarrel between Eugene O’Neill and the actor Charles Gilpin over the role of the Emperor Jones highlights not only the racial tensions of the 1920s, but also actors’ struggle for creative agency as playwrights and directors rose to prominence. Likewise, the 1996 conflict between the African American playwrights August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks over the first production of Parks’s play Venus revives a long-standing polemic over the “proper” mission and aesthetic choices of African American theatre. Finally, Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi (1998), which elicited strong responses from religious conservatives by creating a gay Christ, indirectly highlights the exclusion of right-wing radical plays from the late twentieth-century stages.

In addition to plays and historical documents, the course includes critical texts on the politics of taste and the politics of the canon.

A tentative list of plays: Eugene O’Neill, The Emperor Jones (1920) Willis Richardson, The Chip Woman’s Fortune (1923) Angelina Grimke, Rachel (1916) Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty (1935) Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie (1944) Arthur Miller, The Crucible (1953) Lorraine Hansberry, Raisin in The Sun (1959) Edward Albee, Who is Afraid of Virginia Wolf (1962) Sam Shepard, True West (1980) Marsha Norman, ‘night, Mother (1983) David Mamet, Oleanna (1992) Amiri Baraka, The Toilet (1963) August Wilson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1984) Suzan-Lori Parks, Venus (1996) Tony Kushner, Angels in America (1993) Louis Valdez, Zoot Suit (1978) Ping Chong, Chinoiserie (1995) Terrence McNally, Corpus Christi (1998)

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Susan L Bruns
Date: 02/07/2012