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Documentary Trial Plays in Contemporary American Theater

Jacqueline O’Connor

Publication Year: 2013

From the Chicago Conspiracy Trial and the O. J. Simpson trial to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill congressional hearings, legal and legislative proceedings in the latter part of the twentieth-century kept Americans spellbound. Situated on the shifting border between imagination and the law, trial plays edit, arrange, and reproduce court records, media coverage, and first-person interviews, transforming these elements into a performance. In this first book-length critical study of contemporary American documentary theater, Jacqueline O’Connor examines in depth ten such plays, all written and staged since 1970, and considers the role of the genre in re-creating and revising narratives of significant conflicts in contemporary history.

Documentary theater, she shows, is a particularly appropriate and widely utilized  theatrical form for engaging in debate about tensions between civil rights  and institutional power, the inconsistency of justice, and challenges to gender norms. For each of the plays discussed, including The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Unquestioned Integrity: The Hill/Thomas Hearings, and The Laramie Project, O'Connor provides historical context and a brief production history before considering the trial the play focuses on. Grouping plays historically and thematically, she demonstrates how dramatic representation advances our understanding of the law's power while revealing the complexities that hinder society's pursuit of justice. 

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. iii-iii


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pp. iv-iv


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pp. vii-vii

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pp. ix-xi

Documentary theater calls attention to the multiple communities involved in the production of texts, so it is fitting and with enormous gratitude that I thank the members of the many communities of which I am a part and without whom I could not have written this book. This project emerged from my membership in an academic writing ...

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Introduction: Legal Representation

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pp. 1-21

The most sensational United States trials of the late twentieth century offer an amazing array of dramatic spectacle, plot twists, and shocking finales. Courtroom antics by both Yippie defendants and Judge Julius Hoffman transformed the 1969 Chicago Conspiracy Trial into a farce. Charles Manson’s determination to loose helter-skelter on Southern California by ...

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1. Judicial Identification: The Trial of the Catonsville Nine and The Chicago Conspiracy Trial

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pp. 22-62

During his 1968 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam. But within a year of taking office, his pledge to decrease US involvement in Southeast Asia seemed to have been forgotten as reports of renewed and expanded military offensives surfaced. Details of the 1968 My Lai Massacre, the brutal mass murder of several hundred ...

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2. National Investigation: Inquest and Are You Now or Have You Ever Been

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pp. 63-96

In the years immediately following World War II, the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, one of the only courthouses in Germany that had survived the war, hosted a great tribunal organized by the consolidated power of several Allied nations. Representatives from these countries collaborated in planning the tribunal, whose objective was to bring to justice the major ...

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3. Ideological Confrontation: Execution of Justice and Greensboro (A Requiem)

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pp. 97-125

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, the war in Vietnam was replaced by the culture wars at home. The violent clashes in the fights for civil rights for minority groups, women, and gay men had ended, but the tensions that arose during the development of an increasingly heterogeneous public sphere continued to reflect the often polarized nature of American ...

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4. Individual Interrogation, Communal Resolution: Unquestioned Integrity: The Hill/Thomas Hearings, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, and The Laramie Project

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pp. 126-168

When Los Angeles police officers stopped Rodney Glen King for speeding on March 3, 1991, the incident, captured on videotape by a bystander, quickly became one of the most famous police/civilian encounters in American history. Roughly one minute in length, the tape recorded by George Halliday showed four officers standing over King and striking him repeatedly while ...

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Conclusion: Cultural Legislation

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pp. 169-185

Differences of opinion about the Vietnam War sent citizens into the streets during the 1960s and the 1970s in protest of national policies, and the protests put pressure on law enforcement and the federal govern-ment to control and punish citizens whose demonstrations turned violent or destructive. The war took many Americans beyond our borderlands, as they were drafted to fight on unfamiliar terrain with an enemy that existed ...


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pp. 189-205

Select Bibliography

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pp. 207-213


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pp. 215-225

Author Biography

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pp. 226-226

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Theater in the Americas Series Statement

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pp. 227-227

The goal of the series is to publish a wide range of scholarship on theater and performance, defining theater in its broadest terms and including subjects The series focuses on the performance and production of theater and theater artists and practitioners but welcomes studies of dramatic literature as well. Meant to be inclusive, the series invites studies of traditional, exper-...

Other Books in the Theater in the Americas Series

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pp. 228-229

Back Cover

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pp. 245-245

E-ISBN-13: 9780809332373
E-ISBN-10: 080933237X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809332366
Print-ISBN-10: 0809332361

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 859155701
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Documentary Trial Plays in Contemporary American Theater

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Subject Headings

  • Trials in literature.
  • Literature and history -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Theater -- Production and direction -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Historical drama, American -- History and criticism.
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