Greek Tragedy on the American Stage: Ancient Drama in the Commercial Theater, 1882-1994

Greek Tragedy on the American Stage: Ancient Drama in the Commercial Theater, 1882-1994

Greek Tragedy on the American Stage: Ancient Drama in the Commercial Theater, 1882-1994

Greek Tragedy on the American Stage: Ancient Drama in the Commercial Theater, 1882-1994

Synopsis

During the past century, the interpretation given by the various directors staging Greek drama has varied, and the critical reception accorded the productions has also altered. While the texts of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides remain constant, the meanings drawn from their plays do not. The director who decides to offer a Greek tragedy in the modern American commercial theater believes in the ability of the text to reach the contemporary audience, and the reviewers assess the success of the venture: their words become a record of both a particular performance and the time in which it played. Hartigan explores how drama and society interact and witnesses the continued vitality of the Greek tragedy.

Excerpt

This book developed from the chapter on the history of Greek tragedy production I wrote at the request of Meyer Reinhold for the Classical Tradition in the Americas project. As I did the research for that multivolume, multiauthor series, I realized there existed a great wealth of material scattered in various collections and journals that might be brought together to give a more complete picture of how Greek tragedy has been staged in the United States. More interesting was the critical reception given these stagings of the ancient texts. Two themes soon became evident: first, a performance of a Greek play prompts the theater critics to wax philosophical; a production leads them to ponder the ideas learned (however imperfectly) in school and to debate the value of "the classics." Second, the texts that held appeal for directors and the American audience varied with the political tenor of the times. Thus Trojan Women was frequently staged during times of military conflict, but seldom during times of peace. Euripides' The Bacchae was not performed early in the century, but became the play of choice during the 1960s. While not every production of Greek tragedy was staged in response to social conditions, general trends are possible to identify.

The book has been arranged in chronological units that roughly correspond to the social history of this nation. To avoid a disjointed discussion of a text's performance history, I have blended the two possible methods of presentation: the plays that appealed during a specific time period are noted, and then a full production history of the most popular play (or plays) of that period is given. Thus while the discussion breaks the time frames of the chapters, the production histories are continuous. While Greek tragedy has long been a vibrant part of the repertoire of college and university . . .

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