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Theater inNorthAmerica, 1880-1980 Gerald M.Berkowitz.New Broadways: Theatre AcrossAmerica, 1950-1980. Toto\\a, N.J.: Rowmanand Littlefield, 1982. 208 pp. L.W.Conolly, ed. Theatrical Touring and Founding inNorthAmerica, Westport, Conn.: Greenw~od Press, 1982.245 + xiv pp. Rohert KarolySarlos.Jig Cook and the pl(l\'i11cetow11 Players: Theatre in Ferment. <\mherst: The Universityof Massachusetts Press, 1982. 265+ xiipp. Geraldine Anthony Theaterin North America from 1880 to the present day-its actors, touring companies,professional theaters, regional companies, noncommercial institutionalplayhouses , alternative theaters, experimental companies, and the contemporary realignment of theatrical organizations for economic and politicalreasons-is the subject of this review essay. The three books under consideration treat of different aspects: L. W. Conolly has edited thirteen essayswritten by notable theater scholars and focusing on actors and companiesand theaters-European, British, American and Canadian-as they touredNorth America from 1880 to the present. Robert K. Sarlos studies onlyone of these companies, the Provincetown Players, in its brief history ofsevenyears, 1915to 1922; Gerald Berkowitz describes the evolution of a nationalAmerican theater beginning and ending with Broadway but having traversedthe continent and returning home a far different theater from its initialleavetaking. This clear and sweeping view of theater in North America overthe past one hundred years leaves the reader quite breathless and much moreknowledgeable of roots. Theessaysin Theatrical Touring and Founding in North America, although ofunevenquality, offer a variety of styles and an interesting array of subjects, some quite esoteric. Arranged chronologically according to subject, the bookopens with Marvin Carlson's essay, "Ernesto Rossi in North America," adescriptive account of this Italian actor's performances, mainly of ShakeCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume 15, Number 3, Fall 1984, 361-365 362 Geraldine Anthony speare, in the U.S. and Canada. The story of the failure of a minor actormakes the reader question why Carlson chose this subject, but the essay givesinsight into American audiences' reactions in the 188Os.Carlson's style isstimulating throughout. Arnold ~oo~ is the au~hor o~the s~cond essay, _"HenryIrving's Tours of North Amenca. Rood pamts a hvely picture of Irvmg's eighttours of major American cities and Montreal. There are fascinating sidelightson Ellen Terry and her son, Gordon Craig. Alan Woods's essay, "The Survival of Traditional Acting in the Provinces: The Career of Thomas W. Keene" describes a little-known American actor who attempted "to keep the tradi· tional repertoire and its acting style alive" (p. 32). Again the subject ofthis essay, though well researched, does not seem significant enough to warrant the work obviously entailed. Robertson Davies offers "Mixed Grill: Touring Fare in Canada, 1920-1935.'' The lively anecdotes in this article are told in the author's usual delightfullv humorous style, giving a vivid picture of touring companies in Ontario;s seen from a small boy's vantage point. The Canadians' uncritical loveof theater in the 1920sis underlined. Douglas McDermott and Robert K. Sarlos' essay, "Founding and Touring in America's Provincial Theatre: Woodland, California, 1902-1903," uses one theater, the Woodland Opera House, as typical of theaters in that era in America, to focus on itinerant actors and managers, and the most common type of presentation, the musical farce, to give "a sense of the soul ofsmalltown America" even as Robertson Davies did for Canada. They succeed eminently! Mary Brown's essay, "Ambrose Small: A Ghost in Spite of Himself,"is the rare story of one of Canada's greatest entrepreneurs who disappeared in Toronto in 1919after selling all of his theatrical assets to Trans-Canada Theatres Ltd. for a sizeable sum of money. The story of the man who changed the history of theater in Ontario is well told. Jean-Cleo Godin writes anessay on "Foreign Touring Companies and the Founding of Theatres in Quebec 18801900 and 1930-1950."These two periods were chosen because the first was the "Golden Age" in Quebec theater, and the second marked the beginning of a new era. This account is all too brief and whets the reader's appetite for more. Andrew Parkin contributes "The New Frontier: Toward an Indigenous Theatre in British Columbia." This is a very brief survey of the theatrical activity in the area from 1853to the present-merely a gathering of dryfacts. Richard Moody offers a provocative article, "Theatre USA, 1909-1919: The Formative Decade," suggesting that this ten-year span surpasses all decades in American theater history for the influence it wielded on later development. Helen Krich Chinoy, in her essay, "The Chosen Ones: The Founding of the Group Theatre," describes the beginning of the Group Theater in Brookfield, Connecticut, in 1931by Harold Clurman et al. and acknowledges her debt to his book The Fervent Years. Don B. Wilmeth Theater, 1880-1980 363 gives freshinsights into "The Margo Jones Theatre," that small arena playhouse inDallas which lasted from 1947to 1959, and which had such remarkablerepercussions on the movement toward decentralized professional theater in America. A Calendar of plays is included and gratefully acknowledged bythis critic. EuanRoss Stuart provides the reader with a brief but intelligent survey of·'The StratfordFestival and the Canadian Theatre," as the center of theater inCanadain the 1950s, as well as the vital part it continues to play in the Canadian theatrical mosaic. AnnSaddlemyer offers "Thoughts on National Drama and the Founding ofTheatrest in a short, concluding essay that touches in a bewildering way onevery aspect of theater in Canada. Comparing Canadian to Irish Theater, Saddlemyer, who is a noted scholar of Irish Theater, concludes that both search foraseparate political, cultural and social identity, indigenous heroes andvillains,and both feel compelled to educate their audiences. Saddlemyer states in her Notes that this paper represents more of "a report of 'work inprogress' than any definitive statement of comparison" (p. 210). Theatrical Touringends with a Bibliographical Survey by the editor on sources of theater history. In addition to the thirteen essays, some of which weredelivered as papers first at the University of Toronto Conference in 1979, this stimulating book also contains several fine illustrations and an Index. Thesecond book in our trilogy isJig Cook and the Provincetown Players: Theatre inFerment, by Robert Karoly Sarlos. Unlike the preceding book, thisone seeks to examine in depth only one company, the Provincetown Players, during the seven years of its existence, 1915-22.This movement in thedevelopment of a major theater is examined: the role it played in discovering such great American playwrights as Eugene O'Neill, Susan Glaspell, EdnaSt. Vincent Millay et al.; the powerful and fascinating personality of itsfounder,Jig Cook; its arrival at last in the world of theater as a professional company rather than as a communal force which was Cook's original intention .Cook's zeal for experimental theater that was socially creative drove himtogreat lengths in establishing the Provincetown Players as a collective thatbrought a transformation in American theater. His group dynamics, hisphilosophyof social regeneration through art, and his emphasis on processresulted in that originality and creativity that made the Provincetown Players internationally known. Visionary, contradictory and sometimes incoherent ,Jig Cook found that his strengths were also his weaknesses, eventually causing the demise of the Company. But it had far-reaching influences onsuch developing companies as the Group Theatre (1930), the Federal TheaterProject (1935), the Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway Theatres inthe1960sand 1970s.The Provincetown Players' use of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy resulted in the emergence of theater collectives. This account 364 GeraldineAnthony is only 168pages long and the reader wants more! It also contains numerou illustrations, a Calendar of plays for all eight seasons, an annotated Who': Who, a description of physical structures, Notes, Bibliography and Index. We are indebted to the author's scholarly and painstaking thoroughnessand his evident love of the theater. The third and last book, but by no means the least, is Gerald M. Berkowitz' New Broadways: Theatre Across America 1950-1980.Beginning withadescription of the Broadway theaters in 1950, it goes on to examine the incredible number of independent professional companies which sprang upacross the country in the following decades and finally became America'sreal broad ways, returning their plays eventually to New York in a highlydifferent fashion. This account of thirty years of professional theater in the United States covers the whole spectrum: regional companies, Off-Broadwav theaters, Off-Off-Broadway companies, noncommerical institutional theater~. alternative theaters, experimental theaters. The growth, change and liberation of American theater, evolving from a purely commercial enterprise toinstitu· tional stature, is here examined in a lively and stimulating style. The author seeks to explain how and why it all happened by focusing on representative illustrations of each development in American theater history, offeringbrief analyses of major artistic plays, and cleverly combining all the disparatestrands together in one unified picture. Beginning with a brief historical account or prelude to 1950,the Ameri· can theater in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the authorthen moves into Broadway in mid-century with its thirty theaters and its brand new plays opening each season. There follows an account of the birthofOffBroadway theater, how it came to be, how it developed, what playswere offered, who were the directors. Chapter 3, one of the finest chaptersin the book, records the history of regional theater in America. Verylittle research has been done by scholars in this area so this particular chapteris greatly appreciated. One notices, however, the absence of two important names in the development of regional theater-Fred Koch, the founderof the Playmakers School at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill,and Robert Gard, educated in Folklore at the University of Kansas and Cornell University and presently at the University of Wisconsin, who stimulated much of the regional drama written in the 1940sand 1950sin western Canada and the mid-western United States. Indeed there is so much available material that each chapter of thisbook could be developed into an individual volume. But many of the foremost leaders are remembered in New Broadways, for example Margo Jones whose decision to incorporate her theater in Dallas as a non-profit organi· zation resulted in virtually every regional theater following suit to their profit! Margo Jones thus changed the entire financial set-up of the American regional theater. Theater, 1880-1980 365 Chapter4 of New Broadways describes the "Off-Off and Other Alternatives "-afascinating account of the experimental theater of the 1960s and 1970s, expanding creatively beyond anyone's predictions. Chapter 5 brings thereader back to Broadway with analyses of such eminent writers as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. So much has already been written onthesedramatists and their work that it would have seemed better to mention them in passing and spend more time on theater movements that have not yet been properly researched. This chapter also describes the major changes on Broadway when the boundaries between Broadway, and Off, andOff-OffBroadway, and the regional theaters disintegrated. Broadway hasbecome a showcase for the best plays already produced elsewhere inthecountry. It is the center to which the successfully produced plays from around the States flow. Chapter 6 completes the circle, bringing us totheaterin 1980and a consideration of the stability of non-commercial institutional theaters throughout America. New Broadwaysis a stimulating andhighlyinteresting study, touching on most of the important aspects of theater inAmerica from 1950to the present. Thesethree books enlarge the reader's vision of past and present theater inNorthAmerica. All three necessarily overlap, thus giving the reader added information from different viewpoints. A reading of all three offers anoptimisticand refreshing glimpse of theater in North America. ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 361-365
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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