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American Theater in the Culture of the Cold War

Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947-1962

Bruce A. Mcconachie

Publication Year: 2003

In this groundbreaking study, Bruce McConachie uses the primary metaphor of containment—what happens when we categorize a play, a television show, or anything we view as having an inside, an outside, and a boundary between the two—as the dominant metaphor of cold war theatergoing. Drawing on the cognitive psychology and linguistics of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, he provides unusual access to the ways in which spectators in the cold war years projected themselves into stage figures that gave them pleasure.

McConachie reconstructs these cognitive processes by relying on scripts, set designs, reviews, memoirs, and other evidence. After establishing his theoretical framework, he focuses on three archtypal figures of containment significant in Cold War culture, Empty Boys, Family Circles, and Fragmented Heroes. McConachie uses a range of plays, musicals, and modern dances from the dominant culture of the Cold War to discuss these figures, including The Seven Year Itch, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; The King and I,A Raisin in the Sun, Night Journey, and The Crucible. In an epilogue, he discusses the legacy of Cold War theater from 1962 to 1992.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii-xii

Books that present a cultural-historical analysis of representative theatrical events don’t usually need a preface. After skimming a short introduction laying out the scope and method of such a study, most readers would prefer to jump into the historical thick of things and work through problems of historiography and theoretical orientation as they occur in the...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Most authors embedded in academia, as I have been for all of my professional life, owe a debt of gratitude to the institutions that have supported their scholarship. While I can think of several individuals to whom I must also give thanks, most of their insights and encouragements would not have been available to me had not other institutions, in turn, facilitated...

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1. A Theater of Containment Liberalism

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pp. 1-55

The Broadway theater of 1947 to 1962 played a small but significant part in the dominant culture of the era. Necessarily bound by the profit motive, theatrical producers on the “Great White Way” sought middle- and upper-class attendance for their shows and generally turned their backs on working class families. Audience surveys done by Playbill during the...

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2. Empty Boys, Queer Others, Consumerism

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pp. 56-125

Two kinds of sci-fi horror films filled American movie screens in the early and mid 1950s. In Them! (1954), The Thing (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and The Blob (1958), extraterrestrial invaders threatened wholesome Americans and their self-reliant values. Several of these films, including Them! and Godzilla (1954), featured science and the...

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3. Family Circles, Racial Others, and Suburbanization

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pp. 126-198

In the imaginations of cold war Americans who defined themselves as “white,” the contained image of the Family Circle contracted and expanded to meet their fears and hopes for the present and future. At one extreme, the business class pictured the nuclear family as a fortress protecting family members from the evils of urban blight, teenage crime...

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4. Fragmented Heroes, Female Others, and the Bomb

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pp. 199-282

Herbert Blau, looking back from 1964 at his twelve years with the San Francisco Actors Workshop, used a striking metaphor of containment to characterize the theater of the 1950s. It was, he said, “a carapace in which one secreted his fear and trembling, muffled his indignation, and relieved outrage by innocuous subjective ejaculations. If it wasn’t therapy, it...

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Epilogue, 1962–1992

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pp. 283-299

Cold war theater in the United States did not end in the early 1960s, of course. Although new modes of theatrical production proliferated after 1962—with the success of off- then off-off-Broadway, the rise of festival and regional theaters, the growing professionalism of educational theater, and the continuation of road companies—the Empty Boys, Family...


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pp. 301-333


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pp. 335-347

E-ISBN-13: 9781587294471

Publication Year: 2003