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Problems of Trans-Atlantic Traffic German Drama in the American Theatre Carl Weber Whenever I talk with colleagues in the theatre these days, I am questioned about the newest achievements of German theatre, its writers, directors, companies, or recent adventures in design. There seems to be agreement that one of the most advanced and creative theatre cultures of the present has emerged in the German-speaking countries. This certainly represents a drastic change from the early sixties when I first crossed the Atlantic to come to this country. In those days, Brecht and Drrenmatt were the only names from the German tradition most American theatre people seemed to have heard of. Yes, there had recently been a production of Wittlinger's Do You Know the Milky Way, a play and an author few remember today, at an off-Broadway theatre; there were occasional productions of plays by Frisch, Sternheim, or Wedekind, sometimes even of German classics, at drama departments of universities, but in the professional or commercial theatre-whichever designation one preferred at the time-productions of authors other than Brecht and DUrrenmatt were practically unknown. However, there was talk of one play, Royal Gambit, that seemed to many people to embody the most advanced position of the German theatre in the early sixties. I hadn't heard much of the play in Germany, probably due to the fact that Hermann Gressieker, the author, was vaguely familiar as a writer of "boulevard" plays, a designation which implied a superficial, if clever, mode of writing, and negligible content-matter. Yet, the piece appeared to be regarded rather highly in the U.S. and I was amazed. This anecdote of Royal Gambit's reputation is only mentioned to point out a peculiar aspect of the American reception of foreign plays, namely that it had been exceedingly, if not totally, accidental. The times when one of the Shubert brothers travelled to Central Europe every year to collect the 117 newest scripts from agents and publishers had long since passed. German plays seemed to arrive in the U.S. by happenstance. Either a producer read about a spectacular success in a newspaper or magazine, or-more often-an American scholar discovered or valued highly an author and translated what he/she regarded as an important sample of contemporary or classic literature. The comparatively early and quite general recognition of Bertolt Brecht, for instance, owes much to Eric Bentley's untiring efforts to make the American theatrical and academic community aware of Brecht's pivotal achievement. What Bentley effected for Brecht, and the impact of his essays and translations , certainly hasn't been paralleled since. No other German playwright received such promotion by a major scholar in this country. There is, of course, no other German writer in this century who can claim comparable status and consequence in the theatre. It is, however, amazing that Kleist (not to mention Goethe, Schiller, or other classic authors of the German stage), hasn't been established as the universally important playwright he is, notwithstanding recent efforts of Bentley, among others, to bring Kleist's greatness to the American attention. Recognition and presence of German drama in the American theatre has slowly but perceptibly changed since 1962 when I directed my first American production, Brecht's Puntila and His Man Matti, at Pittsburgh. During the following years I was asked to direct four more Brecht plays, among them The Caucasian Chalk Circle for the San Francisco Actors Workshop, the company that had been so instrumental in introducing Brecht and other foreign authors, like Beckett and Genet, to American audiences . Previously, there had been DUrrenmatt's The Visit and The Physicists on Broadway, in Peter Brook's productions; but they were mainly vehicles for the acclaimed director or a famous acting couple, the Lunts, as far as Broadway was concerned. Later, Broadway also paid homage to Brecht: Mother Courage was staged by Jerome Robbins, with Anne Bancroft in the lead, and Arturo Ui, directed by Tony Richardson, starred Christopher Plummer. Both productions weren't commercial successes, though certainly star vehicles. In 1947, Charles Laughton appeared in Joseph Losey and Brecht's production of Galileo, first in Santa Monica, then later...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 117-130
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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