Theatre Arts 240/English 276:  Topics in Theatre History

American Theatre Left and Right:

Performance, Culture, and Politics in the 1930s, 50s, and 80s

Professor Mazer

Spring 2007


519 Annenberg Center, 3-2659;

Office Hours:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, Noon-1:15, and by appointment



January 9:  Introduction


January 11:  The 1930s:  Politics and Performance.

Helen Krich Chinoy, “The Poetics of Politics:  Some Notes on Style and Craft in the Theatre of the Thirties,” Theatre Journal 35 (1983) 475-498 (downloadable from the Blackboard website).


January 16:  Agitprop Cinema.

Film viewing:  Our Daily Bread (on reserve in Rosengarten).


January 18:  Agitprop and Realism I.

Clifford Odets, Waiting for Lefty, in Six Plays by Clifford Odets (New York:  Grove Press, 1979), pp. 1-31 (bulkpack).


January 23:  Brecht in America.

Bertolt Brecht, The Mother, trans. Steve Gooch (The Threepenny Opera, Baal, and The Mother (New York, Arcade, 1993), pp. 144-206; James K. Lyon, Bertolt Brecht in America (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1980) pp. 6-20; Bertolt Brecht,“Criticism of the New York Production of Die Mutter,” Brecht on Theatre (New York:  Hill and Wang, 1964), pp. 81-84.


January 25:  The Group Theatre.

   Harold Clurman, The Fervent Years (1945, rpt. New York:  Hill & Wang, 1957), pp. 16-50, 129-149 (bulkpack); “Looking Back:  1974-1976,” Educational Theatre Journal 28 (1976) (“ Reunion:  A Self-Portrait of the Group Theatre,” ed. Helen Krich Chinoy) 471-552 (downloadable from the Blackboard website).


January 30:  Agitprop and Realism II.

Clifford Odets, Awake and Sing,  in Six Plays by Clifford Odets (New York:  Grove Press, 1979), pp. 36-101 (bulkpack).


February 1:  The Federal Theatre Project.

Loren Kruger, “‘A People’s Theatre’:  Art, Democracy, and the Federal Theatre.” The National Stage:  Theatre and Cultural Legitimation in England, France, and America (Chicago;   University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp.  133-184 (bulkpack).


February 6:  The Living Newspaper. 

Triple A Plowed Under, in Federal Theatre Plays (New York:  Random House, 1938) (bulkpack).


February 8:  The Political Musical.

 John Houseman, Run-Through (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1972) pp. 242-281 (bulkpack).

Listening assignment:  Marc Blitzstein, The Cradle Will Rock, sound recording in Ormandy Listening Room).


February 13:  The Death of the Federal Theatre Project.

John H. Houchin, Censorship of the American Theatre in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2003),  pp. 131-154 (bulkpack).

Film viewing:  Who Killed the Federal Theatre (DVD, on reserve at Rosengarten).


February 15:  The 1950s.

Albert Wertheim “The McCarthy Era and the American Theatre,” Theatre Journal 34 (1982) 211-222 (downloadable from the Blackboard website); Houchin 154-172  (bulkpack).


February 20:  Theatricality and Resistance.

Maxwell Anderson, Joan of Lorraine (bulkpack).


February 22:  HUAC and the Blacklist I.

Film viewing:  On the Waterfront (on reserve in Rosengarten).

Houchin, pp. 162-172 (bulkpack); Victor Navasky, “Elia Kazan and the Case for Silence,” from Naming Names (New York:  Hill and Wang, 1980), pp. 199-222 (bulkpack).


February 27:  HUAC and the Blacklist II.

Film viewing:  Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan and the Blacklist:  None Without Sin (viewing to be arranged).  (The 1996 film version of The Crucible is on reserve in Rosengarten, for those who don’t know that play.)


March 1:  HUAC and the Blacklist III.

Arthur Miller, A View from the Bridge. 


[Spring Break]


March 13:  Acting and Politics.

Bruce McConachie, “Method Acting and the Cold War,” Theatre Survey 41:1 (2000) 47-67 (downloadable from the Blackboard website)


March 15:  The Politics and Apolitics of the Musical.

Stacy Wolf, “Introduction” and “Mary Martin” (partial), in A Problem Like Maria:  Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 2002), pp. 1-63 (bulkpack); Bruce McConachie, “The ‘Oriental’ Musicals of Rogers and Hammerstein and the U.S. War in Southeast Asia,” Theatre Journal 46 (1994) 385-398 (downloadable from the Blackboard website)


March 20:  Right-wing Theatre.

Richard H. Palmer, “Moral Re-Armament Drama:  Right Wing Theatre in America,” Theatre Journal 31 (1979) 172-185 (downloadable from the Blackboard website).


March 22:  The ’80s’ ’30s.

Tony Kushner, A Bright Room Called Day.


March 27:  The NEA Four I.

Karen Finley, “The Constant State of Desire,” TDR 32:1 (Spring 1988)139-151 (downloadable from the Blackboard website); Tim Miller and David Roman, “‘Preaching to the Converted,’” Theatre Journal 47 (1995) 169-188 (downloadable from the Blackboard website).


March 29:  The NEA Four II.

Lynda Hart, “Karen Finley’s Dirty Work:  Censorship Homophobia, and the NEA,” Genders 14 (Fall 1992) 1-15 (bulkpack); Richard Meyer, “‘Have You Heard the One about the Lesbian Who Goes to the Supreme Court?’:  Holly Hughes and the Case Against Censorship,” Theatre Journal 52 (2000) 543-552 (downloadable from the Blackboard website); Houchin, pp. 225-245 (bulkpack).


[REQUIRED THEATREGOING:  Tony Kushner, Angels in America, Part One:  Millennium Approaches:  Studio Theatre, Annenberg Center, March 28-31, 8:00 PM; March 31 and April 1, 2:00 PM.]


April 3:  response to the production.


April 5:  to be announced.


April 10:  The ’90s’ ’80s’ ’50s.

Tony Kushner, Angels in America, Part One:  Millennium Approaches.


April 12:  Kushner, Angels in America, Part Two:  Perestroika.


April 17:  Reacting to Angels.

David Savran, “Ambivalence, Utopia, and a Queer Sort of Materialism:  How Angels in America Reconstructs the Nation,” in Approaching the Millennium:  Essays on Angels in America, ed. Deborah R. Geis and Steven F. Kruger (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 1997), pp. 13-39 (bulkpack); Houchin, pp. 245-257 (bulkpack).


April 19:  Catch-up and Conclusions


There will be TWO take-home essay assignments, plus ONE final research project, due at a date to be announced, on a topic that must MUST BE APPROVED IN ADVANCE.  Attendance in class is crucial; CHRONIC ABSENCE OR LATENESS WILL BE COUNTED AGAINST YOU.


The following books can be purchased at the Penn Book Center, 34th and Sansom Sts.:


Arthur Miller, A View from the Bridge.

Tony Kushner, A Bright Room Called Day.

Tony Kushner, Angels in America:  A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.


The bulkpack can be purchased at the Campus Copy Center, 39th and Walnut.


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The syllabus for this course is available at­mazer/240sp07.html.  Make a bookmark on your web browser for this site.  There is a “Blackboard” web site for this course, to which you are automatically subscribed, which includes an electronic copy of the syllabus, and (under “Course Documents”) downloadable PDF files of several of the course readings.  We may discover other uses for this web site over the course of the semester.