Their Place on the Stage: Black Women Playwrights in America

By Elizabeth Brown-Guillory | Go to book overview

3
Tonal Form: Symbols as Shapers of "Theater of Struggle"

Any serious discussion of the plays of Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Ntozake Shange must include a study of form. C. Hughes Holman defines form as "the pattern or structure of organization which is employed to give expression to content."1 Fred B. Millet and Gerald Eades Bentley in The Art of the Drama place dramatic form into four categories: genres, (tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and farce); aesthetic modes or styles (classical, romantic, realistic, etc.); technical elements (plot, character, dialogue, and setting); and conventions (presentation of characters as types, the tone or mood, and the style of dialogue). 2 Noted drama critic Stanley Vincent Longman , in Composing Drama for Stage and Screen narrows the number of dramatic form categories to two: tonal form and structural form, the latter of which will be treated in a subsequent chapter. 3

There are no clear-cut delineations between tonal and structural form. Longman argues that "nothing is fixed in all this" and that both tonal and structural form "are ultimately determined by attitude" ( Longman, Composing Drama . . . , p. 119). Some degree of circularity is inevitable, especially since both tonal and structural form combine to advance the ideas of a play. On the subject of the importance of examining form, Longman says, "It is impossible to conceive of a play without some sense of its form nor of a form without some feel for its probable content" ( Longman, p. 119).

To date, tonal form has not been examined in the plays of Childress, Hansberry, and Shange. Tonal form, using Longman's definition, is "the author's attitude toward the play's experience, its characters and the overall world of the play" ( Longman, p. 119). Longman's contention is that "tonal

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