American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000

By Thomas S. Hischak | Go to book overview
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While the intent has been to continue Oxford University Press's American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama in the same manner and format as Gerald Bordman's previous three volumes, the New York theatre during the last three decades of the twentieth century has posed unique problems and gone through unusual changes that rarely troubled previous decades. As the number of Broadway productions in the 1960s dropped, Off Broadway provided the majority of theatrical offerings in New York. But even Off Broadway was eclipsed in the mid-1970s by Off Off Broadway, which was producing hundreds of plays each season that played to small audiences in very limited engagements, were loosely recorded and seldom reviewed, and often disappeared without a trace. While Off Broadway was housed in small, intimate (and sometimes shabby) theatres, Off Off Broadway was more likely to be found in church basements, storefronts, community centers, even warehouses. Where Off-Broadway audiences were adventurous playgoers who looked beyond Broadway, OffOff-Broadway audiences were often special interest groups, patrons of specific racial or sexual preferences, multilingual New Yorkers, and others unlikely to frequent conventional theatres.

Off Off Broadway quickly established itself as a vital and exciting part of the city's theatre scene, providing the training ground and experimental environment for countless actors, playwrights, directors, and designers. Off Off Broadway remained hard to pinpoint, but it was even more difficult to ignore. So theatre became a three-ring circus, each venue vying for attention in its own particular way. In other words, theatre in New York during much of this period could be summarized as Neil Simon on Broadway, Sam Shepard Off Broadway, and the Ridiculous Theatrical Company Off Off Broadway. A chronicle that could not capture this threefold identity would not be a truly accurate record of theatre as it existed at this time.

So American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969–2000 aims for a slightly wider scope than the previous volumes. All Broadway nonmusical productions are included, as well as virtually all Off-Broadway entries and a representative selection of Off-Off-Broadway offerings. Each season (June 1 to May 31) is covered chronologically, jumping back and forth between the three venues as the shows opened. As in the previous volumes, puppet presentations, magic shows, multi-media performance pieces, and musicals are not included. This last genre became more difficult to distinguish as more plays added songs and called themselves a “play with music.” For our purposes, a production with enough songs for “musical numbers” to be listed in the program is considered a musical. An entry such as The Song of Jacob Zulu, which used live choral music to heighten the action, is termed a play.

Also problematic, especially during the 1990s, was the proliferation of one-person shows, usually written and performed by a lone actor. Many of these solo entries were autobiographical musings in which no fictional characters nor structured plot was involved. Yet many of these programs were essential to the theatre scene, and several were very popular, some later produced as plays by others. We have included a good number of these monologue pieces to give a fair representation of what theatre audiences were embracing each season.

As in the previous volumes, facts about the plays, plot summaries, critical reaction, and biographies of notable individuals are included. While the number of performances is given for all Broadway productions, the length of the run of Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway entries is provided if the play ran an unusually short or long time. Both new plays and revivals, commercial and non-profit, American and foreign productions are included. More important, I have tried to convey the feel of each show: the kind of play it was, the mood or tenor of the piece, and


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