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American Drama


Submitted By badmad86
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Contemporary American Drama
This is a term paper assignment for the class “Contemporary American Drama.” In this assignment, I will firstly give a clear definition of drama producing the historical background of contemporary American Drama briefly. Then I am going to introduce the genres we have covered with the characteristics of each such as absurdist, realist and feminist drama. After introducing the genres, I will give a brief analysis of the plays and the playwrights we have studied in class. Finally, I will make a few objective points about my personal performance, the instructor’s performance and the contribution of the course to my academic career. Drama is a literary work generally performed by actors in a kind of stage which involves conflicts and action crisis in it with a plot, characters and dialogues. Setting, costuming, props, blocking, movement, gestures, pacing, intonation are main elements of the spectacle. The distinct period in all arts with drama begins in 1960s. Until 1950s, the words American Drama and Broadway have almost same meanings. In the very beginning times of American Drama, plays were not originals; they were wholly borrowed from London. But after 50s, American Drama changed radically. Actors, directors, and others from Broadway came to America, because now they did not have any job there. After they came, they established their own Off-Broadway companies here. The most popular and affection dramatists of time in America were Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.
Among the whole literary works, drama is accepted to be the unique way of expressing human feelings and thoughts. In drama, there is always a hero, and the hero has the greatest mission to do. I mean there is always a conflict to be solved by the hero. So the hero takes a risk in a sense in the processing of solving the conflict. The hero whoever he or she has to make an important decision to form the direction of a play. There is also an attempt to identify the good and bad ones by the characters. The way in drama is formed as maturity from ego-centrism. Drama aims to give some educational messages to people with some entertainment and various emotions at the same time. Aristotle says, “Dramas are the forms of poetry written literary texts and performed actions”. I agree with this idea. Drama is different from the other kinds of literary works. Actually drama is like the combination of other works in literature. Drama has a plot like a novel, it has characters and dialogues like a playwright and it has a poetic language like poetry. Now, let’s look at the dramatic tools and give clear definitions for each that we mention in class:
Crisis: the crucial moment of a difficult situation.
Irony: the expression of something indirectly, allusion of the opposite sense.
Dramatic Irony: the fact which is known by the audience, but not by the hero.
Foreshadow: hints based on the following events
Catastrophe: the bad or sad situation for the hero.
Metonymy: willingly changing of something by the name of anything relating to that.
Allusion: calling or expressing something indirectly.
Metaphor: a sense which gives it indirectly and implicit in a comparison.
Simile: directly comparison of two or more things.
Personification: modifying the life quality to the animals or any objects.
Soliloquy: a kind of monologue, someone talking to himself aloud.
Nemesis: a deserved and necessary punishment.
Tragic Flaw: someone who causes the other destroy because of him.
Poetic Justice: prize for good things, punishment for bad ones. Briefly, I will mention the variety of speeches among characters and individually in drama:
Epilogue: the speech at the end of the play.
Prologue: the speech at the beginning of the play.
Dialogue: a conversation between two or more characters.
Monologue: a long speech in a play spoken by one single actor.
Soliloquy: a speech performed by a single actor expressing himself aloud.
Then when I look at the genres we have covered in class, there are kinds of genres in American Drama. Now I will make short explanations for each:
Tragedy: the play ends with the destruction of main character by his own fault as the hero.
Comedy: the happy ending for the hero thanks to his intelligence.
Fantasy: the play which is for fun and entertainment with extraordinary events.
Melodrama: the play aiming to make the audience nervous and excited more than entertainment.
Absurdist Drama: a kind of comedy plays which is not based on social ethics or human values.
Problem Play: a play which processes social problems such as political, educational, economic.
Realist Drama: a play which is inspired and based on real life issues.
Feminist Drama: the pro-woman plays which rely on political and radical woman problems and demands. Here I want to add a nice expression I got in class about genres:
“We feel sorrow for tragedy, joy for comedy, scorn for satire, and admiration for satire.”
During this semester, we read and analyzed some masterpieces of American Drama. The Zoo Story, American Dream and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, Oleanna by David Mamet, The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein and Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley. Now, I will give brief analysis for each one.
The Zoo Story tells the stories of two different men in America. The setting takes place in the Central Park on a bench. Our characters are Peter and Jerry. Peter is a prosperous youngish man. He has a regular job, and he represents the successful businessman. He is well ordered, lives on the east side of America as all riches in New York. Peter is an upper class man; he is married, with two daughters and pets at a nice home. He is responsible, bound to life. Peter is unaware of the other and problems. He represents mainstream of American identity. And Jerry, he lives on the west side, the peculiar vagabond, he is homeless, a fragmented world. He is really aware of the facts of life. Jerry is all alone in this big city. He just has two empty picture frames with the expectation of putting someone’s photo in the future.
Peter is the best human modal for Jerry, because he has everything what Jerry does imagine. Job, money, family, dogs, lovely house, and others… This is a confrontation of success and failure. And Jerry represents the other: ethnicity, gender, color, religion. Jerry is the active speaker during the play, and Peter is the passive listener. Jerry is willing to contact, Peter is reserved. Does the dog signify strength or weakness? As a social being, man has to communicate with each other. If it turns impossible, then animals begin to replace then. New York is one of the most populated cities in the world, yet people still feel the loneliness in a way.
Albee’s American Dream, the story is about a family in which everybody has too different characteristics. Firstly, there is a dominant mommy who causes her husband to have an awful life. She is sadistic, masochistic, patronizing and terrorizing. She has no feminine qualities like anyone else. She is absolutely a bad mother. She mutilates the first adopted child. Being a deceitful gold digger is a simile for mommy. Her marriage s not based on love, it is for money. And daddy, he is entirely emasculated by his wife. He is always under the control of her. He is like a toy in his wife’s hands. He has a subordinate position against her. Daddy is an acoustic mirror to mommy, and this is a simile for him. Thirdly, having a marginal position in the family, the grandma is the allegory for the American scene. She takes a defensive attitude against the fatal human intercourse. The grandma is an obstinate old woman, and she utters sardonic epigrams. Her obscenity makes her unfit to modern American image. Then there is a young man in the family. He has a Midwestern beauty. He has a mask with no personality behind it. The young man represents the collapsed American Dream. He performs satisfaction for the family though. He is so materialistic. He can do anything for money. A perfect commodity for his parents... He is lack of human values and qualities.
So the American Dream is an allegory of American scene. It is the American humanist tradition stretching back to the early, idealistic years of the American Republic. Later it turns into not a way of life or ideology, but a person or possession. Albee says, “I look just as much like an old man as I do like an old woman.” He never leaves open ended. He suggests resolution in his works. He bridges gender gap by giving grandma an androgynous character. The American Dream is a good example of absurdist drama.
Another work of Edward Albee is Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which is a tragedy. The characters are George, Martha, Nick and Honey. The striking point here in this story is the names of our main characters. Ironically, the names refer to George Washington and his wife Martha Washington. George is a 46 years old member of the history department at New Carthage University. George is married to Martha, in a once loving relationship now defined by sarcasm and frequent acrimony. Martha is the 52 years old daughter of the president of New Carthage University. She is married to George, though disappointed with his aborted academic career. She attempts to have an affair with Nick. Nick has just become a new member of the biology faculty at New Carthage University. He is 28 years old, good-looking, Midwestern, and clean-cut. He is married to Honey. Honey is the petite, bland wife of Nick. She is 26 years old, has a weak stomach, and is not the brightest bulb of the bunch. In this absurdist story, George’s marriage is based on his wife’s position. He is an unsuccessful man, so his expectations from his life and from his marriage point out in a way. He desires to be completely a different man. And the other marriage, Nick and Honey are not so happy at all. Honey forces Nick to marry telling him a story that she was pregnant. Indeed, there is no child. They have an imaginary child. They all act as if they have a child. Two couples are both childless. There are no real values in their lives. Nick is a handsome man; tall, blonde, good looking. Martha flirts with him. That’s betrayal. Both couples are corrupted. Edward Albee is a leading dramatist of absurdist. He is considered the re-inventor of American theatre. His drama focuses on confrontation and death. His works focus on the dark side of human nature. He is often considered a pessimist and nihilist playwright with no positive philosophy or social message. Albee is recognized as a depressing, defeatist and cynical dramatist. External actions in his play cover violence and aggression. He is a realist who pictures genuine facts of life. Albee is not a misanthrope. He favors active audience. His intents to involve the audience in the issues he covers. His drama has an existentialist texture. Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story and The American Dream are absurd plays, but Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a naturalist tragedy. Albee’s attacks on the conventional American way of life. One another story we got in class is David Mamet’s Oleanna. The story is based on a conversation between a professor and a female student in the professor’s office. Our characters are John and Carol. John is the professor, and Carol is his student. She goes into the office to talk about her performance in class. Carol is unhappy because of her law grades. And the professor tells his problems with his wife to his student, and then there is a misunderstood. However the professor is accused of abusing the girl. He offers her to come and visit him more often, and then he guarantees her grade will be the best. When we look at the characteristics, John is a very open and honest man. He shares his motivations, spelling out his desires, passions and whims with analytical competence. He often uses academic words and allusions, and it shows he is a well educated man. Unlike Carol, John never limits himself. He is always the initiator of physical acts. John tries to embrace Carol to calm her in the first part, attempts to keep her in his office out of exasperation in the other part, and throws her down and beats her. His character slowly moves from vain self righteousness to a sort of humble modesty. And Carol, she seems to have been repressed by social environment. She is secretive and inferior. She lack in self esteem and self confidence. Carol is primarily concerned with mental things rather than physical contact. She is uncertain physically. She is an exasperated, clueless schoolgirl torn between concern for grades and her desire to genuinely learn. In this story, Mamet draws the readers’ attention to sexual harassment. David Mamet’s plays are sparse on action, with notoriously realistic dialogue. The rhythm and diction of the dialogues are often colloquial. This story observes gender and ethnic sensitivity in verbal and physical communication.
Crimes of Heart and The Heidi Chronicles are both examples of feminist drama, because they are written by women expressing the woman ability, power and existence in society. These works aim to give messages and education to people.
Beth Henley’s Crimes of Heart is a black comedy about three maladjusted sisters. Our characters are Lenny, Meg and Babe. Lenny is the eldest sister. She is about thirty, and she is not married. As the eldest sister of all, Lenny abundantly sacrifices herself to her sisters and her grandmother. Meg, who is twenty-seven years old, has just come from Los Angles as an unsuccessful singer. And Babe, the youngest one who is in her twenties, is married and depressed. The story begins with her action. Babe shoots her husband because of his looking. What a dramatic situation it is: “I shot him because I didn’t like his stinking looks.” (p: 19) Her husband is alive; still she is in trouble because of the wound. In this play, we see three unhappy sisters and how they cope with their emotional failures. Indeed, they are all alone. Without a family support, each has been struggling to survive in her own way. Being conscious of facts is unbearable. Thus, instead of confrontation with the facts of life they prefer to ignore them to suffer less: A mode of defense mechanism. However, jail is a relief of for her Babe to escape abuse and social depression. But the key point is the physiology of survival. Freedom blinks everyone same.
Beth Henley is a playwright, screenwriter and actress. She got Great American Play Contest in 1978 for her work Crimes of Heart. She writes with a southern flavor the tradition of gothic and grotesque. Henley’s plays mainly focus on women who struggle for independence from a male dominated hierarchy. Her works have absurdity, but not accompanied by darkness or nihilism. Her plays are realistic and naturalistic. Her characters are egocentric figures, and she does not allow her characters or her audience to fall into desperation. She focuses on the dialogues rather than the actions on the stage.
Lastly, we studied Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles in class this semester. Wasserstein’s characters, Heidi, Peter, Susan, scoop and others, are all well educated, career driven and privileged uncommon women. They are all products of hippie movement of 1980s: music, dance... Their generations are the Baby Boom generation. Although they have good jobs and quality lives, they are still unhappy. They feel something deficient on them. Her characters manage to overcome their problems by their wit, humor and optimistic views. The reader sees the descents and ascents of characters.
Wendy Wasserstein, who has the Pulitzer Prize for her work The Heidi Chronicles in 1988, has a style for writing her feminist works as equal, constructive, comedy, traditional, based on universal values. She pursues female quests for equal rights with men at home and at work. Wasserstein is not a radical feminist, but a liberal. Liberal feminism is based on universal values. She is often criticized by radicals. Her characters women and men are always equal. They are well educated, successful and they have good jobs. In addition to The Heidi Chronicles, she has Uncommon Women and The Others, Isn’t it Romantic?, The Sisters Rosenweig and An American Daughter.
We studied feminism and feminist drama during the term. Feminist drama is written as pro-woman by women for woman problems and their positions in society. Here are some feminist writers and their clear definitions on feminist drama:
• Linda Killian: … Feminist theatre is theatre written by women which tries to explore the female psyche, women’s place in society, and women’s potential.
• Dinah Leavitt: Feminist drama is didactic, pro-woman, political, and associated with the women’s movement and universal.
• Elizabeth Natalle: … By using stage as a speaking platform, feminists argue against their own oppression, seeking a change in their identity as lesser human beings and their subordinate position in society.
• Aslı Tekinay: Feminist theatres are usually radical, experimental, political, and confrontational. As a theatre form, its origins can be traced to the New Left Movement and the Off Off-Broadway theatre of the 1960s.
• Janet Brown: This feminist impulse is expressed dramatically in woman’s struggle for autonomy against oppressive, sexist society. When woman’s struggle for autonomy is a play’s central rhetorical motive, that play can be considered a feminist drama.
Finally, drama class made a real contribution to my education in the university. I aware my point of view has expanded with this course. I don’t think we studied this kind of literature in Turkish Literature class before. So drama is a new kind of literary work for me in this sense. On the other side, the plays which are chosen for this semester are some of the masterpieces of American Drama, and it makes me happy. Albee’s plays, Mamet, Henley and Wasserstein’s books are all very good examples of contemporary American Drama. They are so important and precious playwrights, and I’m glad for reading and analyzing them. If I evaluate my performance, as I said I liked them all. And thanks to the instructor to represent us these works. Thank you for your performance. I like visual, and you frequently support the course with movies which are relating to the books. You also prepare the PowerPoint for the class and you send the notes to us after class. It always becomes so useful for us the students. Again, thank you for your performance, for your labor and for your contributions to me one of your students.

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...Theatrical Realism Theatrical Realism is the attempt of playwrights to mirror reality on the stage. That is to say, these playwrights intend for the audience to see themselves on the stage without fanfare – a stripped-down form of theatrical arts. Realistic theatre does not possess the magical elements of theatre that preceded it, but this is the strength of realism. Anton Chekhov echoes this point, “I wanted to tell people honestly: ‘Look at yourselves. See how badly you live and how tiresome you are.’ The main thing is that people should understand this. When they do, they will surely create a new and better life for themselves”. Realistic playwrights stood on the shoulders of the giants of theatre who preceded them by continuing to look at their times and people, but shattered new earth by asking audiences to look in to themselves. Realism is theatre in which people move and talk in a similar manner to that of our everyday behavior. The style has been dominant for the last 120 years. It holds the idea of the stage as an environment, and not just an acting platform. Some of the ideas flourishing in realism’s formative years were Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Both of these works profoundly impacted the intelligentsia. They called into question the foundations on which the people of the world had built their truths. Marx, especially, can be seen as an important figure of the realistic movement as he sought to awaken the working...

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Bellini's When And Where Did Opera Start?

...which uses a full, rich tone and smooth phrasing,  style of opera.  His operas were loved by the community and Wagner himself, who hardly liked anyone but himself, was enchanted with Bellini’s ability to fluidly combine music with words. Hector Berlioz, was born in 1803 and died in 1869. Berlioz's attempts to carve out an operatic career for himself were stopped by an unimaginative musical establishment.  Nevertheless, he managed to produce Benvenuto Cellini, Béatrice et Bénédict and his masterpiece, the epic Les Troyens, a grand opera with liberetto based on Books Two and Four of Virgil’s Aenid.  His opera, Les Troyens, was rejected by the Paris Opera Mikhail Glinka (1804–1857) founded the Russian operatic tradition with his historical drama A Life for the Tsar and his fairy tale piece Ruslan and Lyudmila.   Leoš Janáček (1854–1928). Janáček's first mature opera (Jenůfa) blended folksong-like melodies and an emphasis on natural speech-rhythms with a character-driven plot of some intensity;  his later works became increasingly brief, with repetitive melodic fragments, lyrical outbursts and unconventional orchestration serving a diverse collection of source-material – just a few bars of these operas can instantly be identified as his.   Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857–1919) Italian composer associated with verismo, or the literal meaning, true realism. His Pagliacci is a staple of the operatic repertoire. Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924). The only true successor to Giuseppe Verdi in Italian...

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...Breathless is a french movie that was released in the 1960. It talks about a sociopathic criminal who steals a car and murders a motorcycle policeman who tries to pursue him. He then returns back to his American girlfriend and begins hiding from the police while continuously trying to seduce her. Towards the end of the film, she discovers what he has done and turns him over to the police. He then accepts the fact that he’s going to get arrested. The police accidentally shoot him and ends up killing him. 

The movie has very different shooting style from a lot of movies. Instead of having long scenes, Jean- Luc Godard, the director of this movie, constantly uses jump cuts which results in the movie either jumping into a new scene or cutting to the same scene from other places. These cuts show the passing of time like the, for instance, in the car driving scene. Now in the scene where the girl meets up with the American man in the cafeteria, the scene is meant to keep the audience focused on the story by disorienting them with the rough sound and the visual differences and abrupt cuts. The movie was made in france and shown in black and white, it shows to the use of a lot of jump cuts to keep the audiences interested since the movies back then were somewhat longer than they are today. The film has a lot of humorous moments made especially the main character which is interesting because it contrasts what he does to the narrative storyline. Another interesting thing about the movie...

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