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  • Plays Onstage: An Anthology
  • Kristin Crouch
Plays Onstage: An Anthology. By Ronald Wainscott and Kathy Fletcher. Boston: Pearson / Allyn & Bacon, 2006; pp. xi + 628. $76.60 paper.

Many of us who teach undergraduate or graduate courses in theatre are acquainted with the continual search for an adequate anthology of plays that will allow us to introduce students to a diverse range of historical periods, genres, styles, and playwrights. We want to engage students and familiarize them with a core group of dramatic texts appropriate for beginning theatre students. Yet, we also hope to find a volume that students might retain as a foundation for upper-level coursework and as support for their further development as scholars and artists.

This new anthology, compiled by Wainscott and Fletcher, aims to provide an ambitious range of titles within a compact volume of twenty-one plays. It covers the expected playwrights such as Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and Brecht, though it includes lesser-seen titles from some of these writers. Instead of Everyman, we have The World and the Child; instead of The Miser or Tartuffe, we have The Hypochondriac; and instead of A Doll's House, we have Ghosts. As another strong point, this volume manages to offer a commendable variety of voices, from Japanese Noh drama to a range of multicultural choices from the American stage: African, Asian, Hispanic, Cuban, and more. Even more impressive within this tight volume is the inclusion of five plays authored by modern women playwrights.

Compared with several of the larger available anthologies, this collection does not have the space to include multiple texts by the same playwrights and other educational material such as critical essays or discussion questions. However, this anthology's key strength is its engaging introductory material for each of the plays included. Although only several pages long, each introduction offers seven sections devoted to theatre history, dramatic structure, and unique features: "When the play was new," "The playwright," "Genre, structure, and style," "Important elements of content," "The play in revival," "Special feature," and "Further reading about the play, playwright, and context." These brief selections are clear, concise, appealing, and remarkably informative for their length. With accessible language and writing style, the introductions point out the most distinguishing features of each play and expand on the significant elements of the genre as well as provide important suggestions for further reading. The introductions also help to position each play within the study of dramatic literature in a larger sense by providing links, contrasts, and comparisons among the plays.

Not only do Wainscott and Fletcher's introductions discuss the plays from a critical or literary perspective, they situate them as important performance documents, elaborating on the features of key productions from various periods of history, and suggesting the importance of collaboration among all theatre artists in the realization of dramatic literature as theatrical productions. Its companion textbook, Theatre: Collaborative Acts (Pearson / Allyn & Bacon, 2004), builds on this concept and helps the beginning theatre student in an introduction to theatre course to understand the craft and discipline of the theatre as a collaborative art form. An abundance of photographs and illustrations within the introductory textbook help the student to visualize the shift of the dramatic text from the page to the stage. Both textbooks draw attention to the "space" within which theatre is performed, emphasizing the physical power and presence of theatre as performance and as an important cultural and political force within society.

The volume has some weaknesses in comparison with other, more comprehensive anthologies available. Space restrictions allow for fewer footnotes than might be desired, especially for students inexperienced with heightened language. The versions of some of the premodern plays do not include line divisions, which can make for difficulties during class sessions if anyone has trouble locating passages under discussion. Furthermore, the twenty-one plays selected for the anthology may not be appropriate for all classroom situations, but, on the whole, this volume makes a solid choice for an introductory course in dramatic literature. It may also be useful as a companion text for an introduction to theatre or theatre history course, or for further studies as students progress through more advanced courses...


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