Dramatic Structure in the Contemporary American Theatre
Robert J. Andreach
Perfect bound, 238 pages, 5.5" x 8.5"
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About the Book
In this follow-up to his 2012 The Contemporary American Dramatic Trilogy, Robert J. Andreach continues his unique study of dramatic structure as evidenced through the overarching themes of contemporary American trilogies.
The themes of the first play in a trilogy, he shows, can be far different from those developed as the sequence continues, citing examples from playwrights as varied as David Rabe and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Quiara Alegráa Hudes. Looking at the ways structure in a tragedy can be substituted for the Aristotelian plot, Andreach makes clear that because creating or reinventing oneself can be such a primary motivating force in American culture, a character's failed attempt to change the structure or plot of his or her life may indeed be tragic.
The dramatic trilogy has been flourishing for some time now in new works and revivals of older ones by American, British, and European playwrights, with examples such as the Hunger Games trilogy and the Fifty Shades trilogy moving more recently even into the popular sphere. Combining his skills as both a professional reviewer of theater and a literary critic, Robert Andreach is in a unique position to provide coherence to what most observers perceive as an unrelated welter of contemporary theatrical experiences.
For Aristotle, classical tragedy consists of six elements, the first two of which are plot and character. The "soul of a tragedy," plot is the imitation of the action that the tragedy dramatizes: that is, the arrangement of the incidents. Character is both the agent that the action implies and a quality that the agent possesses such as the choices he makes. By acting, the character or agent sets in motion the plot's pattern....
To determine therefore whether a contemporary play conforms to the Aristotelian model, this study tries to determine whether it has any or all of the three parts and in what order or pattern they progress. When the term structure is used, it is a counterpart to plot, and the best way to clarify what may appear to be unnecessary obfuscation is a plea Willy makes in the Dusk segment of By the Sea By the Sea By the Beautiful Sea when he urges the two women to seize the moment because by doing so, the three of them "can change our lives forever and ever, even if we never see each other again."
Willy is arguing that by acting, the three of them can change the existing structures in which their lives have been cast and create or form new lives. If structure is understood as a counterpart to Aristotelian plot and the character who acts as a counterpart to Aristotelian character, a character who acts to change the structure acts to reverse the Aristotelian order of plot and character. By force of character, the agent changes the plot of his/her life....
Were Oedipus on the beach, however, he would argue to Willy that changing the plot of one's life is impossible, and based on his experience, he should know. Learning from the oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother, he fled Corinth, where he was reared as the king's son, only to kill his father, King Laius, at the crossroads at Thebes and marry the king's widow, his mother, Jocasta. Thinking he was running away from the plot, he ran into it. What had been foretold came true....
About the Author
Robert Andreach is a former university professor and theater reviewer. He is the author of many books, most recently John Guare's Theatre, Len Jenkin's Theatre, and The Contemporary American Dramatic Trilogy. Other works include Studies in Structure: The Stages of the Spiritual Life in Four Modern Authors; The Slain and Resurrected God: Conrad, Ford, and the Christian Myth; Creating the Self in the Contemporary American Theatre (a Choice magazine outstanding academic title for 2000); Drawing Upon the Past: Classical Theatre in the Contemporary American Theatre; and Understanding Beth Henley
Table of Contents
Introduction to the Trilogy: Shawn
Chapter 1: Hudes, Rabe, and Shanley
Chapter 2: Nguyen, Parks, Pintauro, Wilson, and McNally
Introduction to the Tragedy: Eno and Cleage
Chapter 3: Letts, Hunter, Shepard, Shanley, Bradshaw, and LaBute
Chapter 4: Kondoleon, Gurney, Rabe, Parks, O'Neill, D'Amour, Guirgis, Hunter, and Mac
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