Essays on Modern American Drama: Williams, Miller, Albee, and Shepard, ed. by Dorothy Parker, and: Arthur Millerby June Schlueter, James K. Flanagan (review)
- Comparative Drama
- Western Michigan University
- Volume 22, Number 3, Fall 1988
- pp. 274-276
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- Additional Information
274Comparative Drama highly diversified volume, its inclusion of a large dose of heterodoxy has the first claim. Together with some more traditional, but hardly dull materials, it contains much that is intriguing, exciting, debatable, and not a little that is useful. Renaissance Drama is off to a good start under the aegis of the new editor. ROLF SOELLNER Columbus, Ohio Dorothy Parker, ed. Essays on Modern American Drama: Williams, Miller , Albee, and Shepard. Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1987. Pp. xiii + 218. $28.50 hard cover, $13.50 paperback. June Schlueter and James K. Flanagan. Arthur Miller. New York: Ungar, 1987. Pp. xix + 171. $16.95. The seventeen essays in Essays on Modern American Drama all appeared in Modern Drama between 1967 and 1984. In fact the volume was published, as Dorothy Parker explains in her introduction, because it seemed "appropriate that some of the major articles on the most distinguished modern dramatists should begin to be anthologized, and that one of the first areas to be collected should be American drama" (p. xi). The choice of four dramatists to represent modern American drama— Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and Sam Shepard— was made, according to the Introduction, because "these four . . . stand out above the rest. There was no difficulty in choosing them as representative of the main stream of American dramatic tradition. Each produced work that has received the highest critical acclaim as well as works which have provoked the kind of controversy that is generated only by those whose achievements have been widely recognized and praised" (p. xii). Two other reasons given for the choice are that all four playwrights were "born in the twentieth century and began writing after the characteristics peculiar to it were well established" and that "each represents a different geographical district of the United States" (p. xii). The editor of a volume of essays is certainly free to choose her own principles of selection; but in a volume entitled Essays on Modern American Drama one wonders at the absence of Eugene O'Neill, who certainly wrote as powerfully about the "characteristics peculiar to" the twentieth century as any of the playwrights represented here, despite his 1888 birth date. The volume also perpetuates a conception of the canon of American drama that much contemporary scholarship is proving inadequate. The notion of modern American drama as essentially the province of the "big four," apparently about to expand to the "big five" with the canonization of Sam Shepard, has meant that many of the plays of O'Neill, Williams, Albee, and Miller that have only modest cultural importance and aesthetic value have received disproportionate attention from critics in comparison with some culturally more important and aesthetically more interesting plays of lesser known dramatists. In this volume, for example, one wonders whether essays on The Rose Tattoo and All Over could not profitably have been omitted in favor of articles on plays such as The Connection, Dutchman, or 'Night Mother. Volumes Reviews275 like this tend to set the stage for what will be studied in the future. It is regrettable to see the canon being set, under such distinguished auspices , along such limited and exclusionary lines. That said, many of the essays represented here are important documents in the scholarship on American drama. Brian Parker's "The Composition of The Glass Menagerie: An Argument for Complexity" (1982) makes use of the extensive manuscript materials at the University of Texas to shed important light on Williams' creative process. Mary Ann Corrigan began a significant line of interpretation when she demonstrated the simultaneous use of objectivity and subjectivity in Williams' early work in "Realism and Theatricalism in A Streetcar Named Desire" (1976). C. W. E. Bigsby's articles on After the Fall and Tiny Alice (both 1967-68) anticipated the incisive and original readings he gave to Miller and Albee, as well as to Williams, O'Neill, Mamet, Shepard, Wilson, and many others in his important three-volume study of twentieth-century American drama. Barry Gross' study, "All My Sons and the Larger Context," is an important treatment of Miller's views of the family's relation to society, and Robert Martin's 1977 reading of...