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American Dramatists of the Mid-20th Century
Eugene O’Neill and
20th Century Drama
An international drama
During the 20th century (especially after World War I) Western drama became more
unified and less the product of separate national literary traditions. Realism, naturalism,
and symbolism (and various combinations of these) continued to inform important
For most of 20th- century theatre, realism was
the mainstream. There were some, however,
who turned their backs on realism. Realism
originally began as an experiment to make
theatre more useful to society—a reaction
against melodrama, highly romanticized plays—
and realism has become the dominant form of
theatre in the 20th-century. There have been
some experiments, though, which have allowed
for more adventurous innovation in mainstream
Early 20th century naturalism
Among the many 20th-century playwrights who wrote what can be broadly
termed naturalist dramas were Gerhart Hauptmann (German), John
Galsworthy (English), John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey (Irish), and
Eugene O'Neill, Clifford Odets, and Lillian Hellman (American).
Eugene O’Neill
Lillian Hellman
Clifford Odets
International influences
Three vital figures of 20th-century drama are the American Eugene O'Neill, the German
Bertolt Brecht, and the Italian Luigi Pirandello.
Eugene O’Neill
Three vital figures of 20th-century drama are
the American Eugene O'Neill, the German
Bertolt Brecht, and the Italian Luigi Pirandello.
O'Neill's body of plays in many forms—
naturalistic, expressionist, symbolic,
psychological—won him the Nobel Prize in
Literature in 1936 and indicated the comingof-age of American drama.
Brecht wrote dramas of ideas, usually promulgating socialist or Marxist
theory. In order to make his audience more intellectually receptive to his
theses, he endeavored—by using expressionist techniques—to make them
continually aware that they were watching a play, not vicariously
experiencing reality.
For Pirandello, too, it was paramount to fix an awareness of his plays as
theater; indeed, the major philosophical concern of his dramas is the
difficulty of differentiating between illusion and reality.
The rise of realism
In the 1920s, realism had become widespread in England,
France, and the United States; in the U.S. theatre boomed—
There were 200 to 275 new productions a year average. One
of the important groups that enhanced the theatrical
presence in the U.S. was the Theatre Guild, founded in 1919
with the intention of bringing important foreign works to
improve theatre in the U.S. By the mid 1920s, playwrights
the United States were also competing to have their works
produced by the Theatre Guild.
Perhaps the most significant American playwright to have
plays produced by the Theatre Guild was Eugene O’Neill
(1888-1953), with five of his plays appearing at one time in
New York during the 1924-25 season. O’Neill helped
establish serious realistic Drama as the main Broadway
form. His Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Desire Under
The Elms are two of his great serious dramas.
Robert Edmond Jones
The New Stagecraft
Also in the 1920s, came something called "The New
Stagecraft." The Theatrical Syndicate had pretty much controlled
American theatre till around 1915. But developing around 1910 was
a loose-knit group of what came to be known as the "little theatres."
The Provincetown Players introduced the work of O’Neill, and the
Washington Square Players, which later evolved into the Theatre
Guild, encouraged the New Stagecraft.
Notable American Designers
Two major American designers who advocated this New Stagecraft
were Robert Edmund Jones (1887-1954) and Lee Simonson
(1888-1967). Both were major forces in American theatrical design
in the first half of 20th-century, moving away from realism and
towards suggestion and mood--perhaps a realism of mood and
feeling would describe its "realist" origins.
Lee Simonson
HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, Sets and costumes designed by Lee Simonson,
The Theatre Guild, 1922
Production photo from DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, 1924
JONES’ design for O’Neill’s
Robert Edmond Jones design for O’Neill’s THE ICEMAN COMETH
The Provincetown Players
Musical revue
But during the 1920s, as well, a
period known as the roaring twenties-the American musical theatre began
to develop more fully, with the
Ziegfeld Follies offering variety acts
and introducing songwriters and
performers to theatre audiences.
Worker’s Theatre
During the decade of the twenties, there were also the beginnings of the
Workers’ Theatre Movement. In 1926, a small group of authors and theater
directors formed the Workers’ Drama League, and the New Playwrights’
Theatre formed the next year. Both hoped to present drama that had some
social significance and would deal with some of the problems of the day.
The workers’ theatre movement would not develop fully in the United
States until after the stock market crash of October 1929.
The Glencairn Plays—filmed together as The Long Voyage Home:
Bound East for Cardiff, 1914
In The Zone, 1917
The Long Voyage Home, 1917
Moon of the Caribbees, 1918
Other one-act plays
■ A Wife for a Life, 1913
■ Before Breakfast, 1916
■ The Web, 1913
■ Ile, 1917
■ Thirst, 1913
■ The Rope, 1918
■ Recklessness, 1913
■ Shell Shock, 1918
■ Warnings, 1913
■ The Dreamy Kid, 1918
■ Fog, 1914
■ Where the Cross Is Made, 1918
■ Abortion, 1914
■ Exorcism 1919
■ The Movie Man: A Comedy, 1914
■ The Sniper, 1915
■ Bread and Butter, 1914
■ Servitude, 1914
■ The Personal Equation, 1915
■ Now I Ask You, 1916
■ Beyond the Horizon, 1918 Pulitzer Prize, 1920
■ The Straw, 1919
■ Chris Christophersen, 1919
■ Gold, 1920
■ Anna Christie, 1920 - Pulitzer
Prize, 1922
■ The Emperor Jones, 1920
■ Diff'rent, 1921
■ The First Man, 1922
■ The Hairy Ape, 1922
■ The Fountain, 1923
■ Marco Millions, 1923–25
■ All God's Chillun Got Wings, 1924
■ Welded, 1924
■ Desire Under the Elms, 1925
■ Lazarus Laughed, 1925–26
■ The Great God Brown, 1926
■ Strange Interlude, 1928 - Pulitzer Prize
■ Dynamo, 1929
■ Mourning Becomes Electra, 1931
■ Ah, Wilderness!, 1933
■ Days Without End, 1933
■ The Iceman Cometh, written 1939, published 1940, first performed
■ Hughie, written 1941, first
performed 1959
■ Long Day's Journey Into Night,
written 1941, first performed
1956 - Pulitzer Prize 1957
■ A Moon for the Misbegotten, written 1941–1943, first performed
A Touch of the Poet, completed in 1942, first performed 1958
More Stately Mansions, second draft found in O'Neill's papers, first
performed 1967
(San Francisco - October 2015)
HUGHIE on Broadway - 2016
Announced earlier this year, Forest Whitaker will make his
Broadway debut next spring in a revival of “Hughie,” a play by
Eugene O’Neill, set in a New York City hotel in 1928, and
centers on a hustler named Erie Smith, who confides in a
night clerk.
The production has now shored-up its team both in front of
and behind the camera, and set a theater and opening date.
Tony Award winner Frank Wood has joined the production, and
will star opposite Whitaker in the play, which will be housed at
the Booth Theatre, with performances (reviews) set to begin on
February 5, 2016, with an official opening on February 25 for
a limited engagement.
O'Neil wrote the play in the 1940s, and it was first staged on
Broadway in 1964, starring Jason Robards.
This revival will be directed by Michael Grandage, former
artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London, who won
a 2010 Tony Award for his direction of “Red.”
There was a 1975 revival that starred Ben Gazzara, followed
by another revival, in 1996, starring Al Pacino.
• Born in 1915 in New York City
• His father’s business failed
because of the Depression
• Family moved around a lot
because of poverty
• Attended the University of
• Returned to NYC after graduating
No luck with writing!
• Finally had a play of his on
All My Sons (1947)
• In 1949 he wrote Death of a
• He Married Marilyn Monroe
Divorced after a few years
Had three wives altogether
• Wrote The Crucible in the early
Was accused of being a Communist
• Died in 2005
Up close – Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller was one of the major dramatists of the twentieth century. In the years
before his death he often was called the “greatest living American playwright”.
BORN October 17, 1925
DIED February 10, 2005
SOURCE: Marino, Stephen. "Arthur Miller". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 16 May 2008
[, accessed September 2010.]
He earned this reputation during a career of more
than seventy years, from his first plays as an
undergraduate at the University of Michigan in
the 1930s to his achieved critical success in the
1940s with All My Sons (1947) and Death of a
Salesman (1949). In the 1950s he wrote The
Crucible (1953) and A View from the
Bridge (1955), refused to “name names”
at his appearance before the House
Un-American Activities Committee
(HUAC), and had a celebrated marriage
to the film actress Marilyn Monroe.
He produced a critically acclaimed
autobiography, Timebends (1987), and
premiered new plays on Broadway and
in London in the 1990s. In the new
millennium, Miller remained as active as
at the beginning of his career,
publishing a collection of essays,
Echoes Down the Corridor (2000), and
completing two new plays, Resurrection
Blues (2002) and Finishing the Picture
(2004), which premiered a few months
before his death.
Recipient of the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for All My Sons,
Death of a Salesman, and A View From the Bridge...
ALL MY SONS on Broadway with John Lithgow, Dianne
Wiest, Josh Lucas and Katie Holmes (2008).
Death of a Salesman
American Actors in the
title role of WILLY LOMAN
Brian Dennehy
Philip Seymour Hoffman
...the Pulitzer Prize for Death of a Salesman, the Tony Award for All My
Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible, and Lifetime Achievement
and the Olivier Award for Broken Glass...
...Miller clearly ranks with the other truly great figures of American drama
– Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Edward Albee – and the
pantheon of great world dramatists, such as Chekov, Strindberg,
Shaw and Beckett.
Broadway revival of A VIEW
Arthur Miller was not only a literary giant, but also
one of the more significant political, cultural, and
social figures of his time, well-known as a man of
conviction, with rock-solid integrity, who frequently
took popular and unpopular stands on many
issues. At his death, the front page headline of
The New York Times called him the “moral voice
of the American stage”. In the great themes of his
work – guilt and betrayal, family and society,
individual and social conscience, private and
public responsibility – he confronted the ethical
issues of his time.
In his own words...
Plays by Arthur Miller
The Golden Years
The Man Who Had All the
All My Sons
Death of a Salesman
An Enemy of the People
The Crucible
A View from the Bridge
After the Fall
A Memory of Two Mondays
Incident at Vichy
The Price
The Creation of the World
and Other Business
The Archbishop’s Ceiling
The American Clock
Playing for Time
The Ride Down Mt. Morgan
Broken Glass
Mr. Peters’ Connections
Resurrection Blues
Finishing the Picture
One-Act Plays
Everybody Wins
A View from the Bridge (one-act
The Crucible
A Memory of Two Mondays
Fame / The Reason Why
Two Way Mirror:
Elegy for a Lady
Some Kind of Love Story
Danger: Memory!
I Can’t Remember Anything
The Last Yankee
The Misfits
Tennessee Williams
Born Thomas Lanier
Williams in Columbus,
Moved to St Louis in
1929 attended
University of Missouri.
1931 Worked at a shoe
company where he met a man
named Stanley Kowalski.
1939 -Moved to New Orleans.
Changed his name to
Wrote for the WPA.
■ 1944 - First play The
Glass Menagerie
staged in Chicago,
then New York for over
five hundred
■ The play won New York
Drama Critics’ Circle
■ 1947 - A Streetcar
Named Desire
wins the Pulitzer
■ 1951- The play is
made into a highly
successful film
starring Marlon
Brando and Vivien
■ 1955 - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
wins the Pulitzer Prize.
■ 1958 - Made into a movie
starring Paul Newman and
Ellizabeth Taylor.
Elizabeth Taylor on
the set of Cat on a
Hot tin Roof.
Andy Warhol and Tennessee Williams, 1967.
■ 1961- Williams’ long
time companion, Frank
Merlo died, plunging
Williams into depression
and dependence on
prescription drugs.
His works
■ Williams wrote more
plays, two novels, and an
autobiography, but was
no longer a successful
■ He died in 1983.