United States Theater

By | February 19, 2022

In the last twenty years the American theater reconfirms, after the overwhelming experimentation of the off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway movements, the centrality of that mainstream that since the Thirties had imposed itself with its representative codes. After the death of T. Williams (1983), it remains above all A. Miller to defend the honor of the old guard. The Archbishop’s ceiling (1977) confirms the setting of the famous Crucible (1953), but moves the theme of political persecution from the America of the witch hunt (of 1692 as well as of the McCarthy era) to the Eastern Europe of the Stalinist regimes. Also The American clock (1980; trans. It., 1986) tackles issues of a social nature in the naturalistic vein which is a distinctive trait of Miller’s dramaturgy; but later Miller turned his gaze towards more intimate situations, exploring the ambiguity of interpersonal relationships.

For E. Albee, on the other hand, the continuation of his career after the great successes of the early 1960s led to a sort of exasperation, sometimes self-parodic, of certain late existentialist tendencies present in his production from the beginning, such as the icy denunciation of incommunicability between the sexes of Listening (1977), the painful investigation into the meaning of the death of The lady from Dubuque (1980), or the expressionistic anger of The man who had three arms(1982). L. Wilson (b.1937) updates the Cecovian lesson by adapting it, with the addition of homosexual issues, to the disillusioned post-Vietnam America (5th of July, 1978) or to the only apparently more ” romantic ” one. Talley’s folly, 1979; Talley & Son, 1985); more recently he ventures into the violent and disconnected passion of Burn this (1987) with tones that seem those of S. Shepard rather than those of the favorite European playwrights. In fact, Shepard (b.1943) is responsible for the progressive introduction into the realistic drama of the visionary and furious exuberances that characterize the first phase of his career, dedicated to more spectacular betrayals than the expectations of the public: in Curse the starving class (1977), for eg, the dictation of Odets and O’Neill pushes Shepard to seek metaphorical impetuosity not in the fantastic but in a powerful and unhindered realism. Buried child (1978; trans. It., In American Scenes, 1985) transforms the decline of a family of Midwestern farmers into the dramatization of the decline of American society, and True West (1980; it., Ibid.) Plays on the transformation of the myth of the West (and of the flight to freedom that it symbolizes) in the only reality that can guarantee a space for the action of individuals otherwise marginalized and condemned to a senseless exercise of violence. Of Shepard’s subsequent production, at least Fool for love (1983; trans. It., 1986) and The war in heaven (1991) should be remembered. The same fascination for the aggressiveness of gestures and words can be found in the production of D. Rabe (Streamers, 1977) and A. Innaurato (Gemini, 1978).

The theater of D. Mamet (b. 1947) is based on a different conception of realism, which in his texts is aimed at representing not so much social or psychological realities as the rhythms and spirals of spoken language. Icastic proof of this is the short The duck variations (1972), where in the dialogue between two elderly people in a park there is an exchange of ” philosophical ” jokes with a perfect formal structure but absolutely devoid of any sense, and Sexual perversity in Chicago (1974; trans. It., In Teatro, ii, 1989), which stages the disintegration of a happily in love couple by the efficient rhetoric of two ” friends ”. In American Buffalo (1977) it is the jargon of thehalf-notch gangsters to be translated onto the scene with great precision, as in Glengarry Glen Ross (1983; it., in Theater, i, 1986) the world of real estate agents transcends into a corrupt hell of competition and deceit dominated by ambiguity of language; no less inexorable in his exposition of the duplicity of language is Speed-the-Plow (1987), set in Hollywood (ironically, his linguistic ability has allowed Mamet to become one of the most requested film writers, as well as director himself).

The most interesting African American playwright is A. Wilson (b.1945): Ma Rainey’s black bottom (1984), Fences (1987), Joe Turner’s come and gone (1988) and The piano lesson (1990) each face a different decade of this century, bringing on the scene the internal conflicts of the black community itself in the most important steps for the definition of its identity. The same questions were brought to the scene by S.-A. Williams (b. 1944), Ch. Fuller (b. 1939) and N. Shange, to which must be added the voices of the Chicano (L. Váldez, b. 1940) and Sino-American (DH Hwang, b. 1957) minority.

Very relevant, especially during the 1980s, was the spread of women’s theater, which expressed authors of great interest such as W. Wasserstein, B. Henley and M. Norman.

Wasserstein (b.1950) addresses her analysis on the ambivalent attitude of women in the face of the new horizons – but also the new risks – opened by the feminism of the Sixties and Seventies, finally summarizing, in very critical terms, the path of women from the very first radical activism to the neo-conformism of recent years in The Heidi chronicles (1988). Henley (b.1952) uses certain gothic-grotesque expressive modes of the Southern literary tradition (Faulkner, O’Connor) to dramatically (sometimes even comically) hyperbolize the “ war of the sexes ” in the regions of the US where it is strongest. the domination of a certain male-dominated culture (Crimes of the heart, 1979). Norman (b.1947) paints the contradictory picture of the construction of female identity in contemporary US, finding an uncertain solution in the unexpected solidarity that is created between people through suffering (Third and oak, 1978), or in the arduous redefinition of the relationships between mothers and daughters (‘night, mother, 1982). The success of these authors has opened the doors of Broadway to other talents, including E. Mann, T. Howe, CL Johnson and S. Nanus.

Still vital, although less influential than two or three decades ago, is the experience of theatrical collectives, places dedicated to the most provocative scenic and linguistic experiments. Among all, one of the most interesting and emblematic is the Wooster Group, which is based in the New York neighborhood of Soho and is artistically led by E. LeCompte (b. 1944). Following the doctrine of R. Schechner, founder of that Performance Group that later gave birth to the Wooster, the importance of the text is secondary to its realization on the stage, to which all those present collaborate without any hierarchical distinction. However, LeCompte uses Schechner’s insights in the direction of greater rational control of performance, without the (self-) psychoanalytic emphasis that was so important in the collective theater of the 1960s, and with a greater ease in the use of intertextual practices of a deconstructionist matrix. Other innovative groups are L. Breuer’s Mabou Mines Company, mainly influenced by Beckett’s theater; the Bread and Puppet Theater, which blends the brilliance of stage presentations with the fantasy of musical proposals; the WOW Café, an experimental venue for performances of women only; and a large number of feminist groups among which the At the Foot of the Mountain Theater and the Feminist Amerikan Theater stand out. It cannot be concluded without mentioning the importance of some collaborations between theater and music and / or dance (R. Wilson and Ph. Glass; L. Anderson; M. Clarke; S. Shelton Mann; J. Goode; M. Monk), who try with the fusion of the arts to counter (or exploit) the communication confusion prevailing in the age of television and computers.

United States Theater