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Cover for The American Stage

The American Stage

Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner (LOA #203)

Lawrence Senelick (Editor), John Lithgow (Foreword by)


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Here is the story, told firsthand through electric, deeply engaged writing, of America’s living theater, high and low, mainstream and experimental.

Drawing on history, criticism, memoir, fiction, poetry, and parody, editor Laurence Senelick presents writers with the special knack “to distill both the immediate experience and the recollected impression, to draw the reader into the charmed circle and conjure up what has already vanished.” Through the words of playwrights and critics, actors and directors, and others behind the footlights, the entertainments and high artistic strivings of successive eras come vividly, sometimes tumultuously, to life.

Observers from Washington Irving and Fanny Trollope to Walt Whitman and Mark Twain evoke the world of the nineteenth-century playhouse in all its raucous vitality. Henry James confesses his early enthusiasm for playgoing; Willa Cather reviews provincial productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Antony and Cleopatra. The increasing diversity and ambition of the American theater is reflected in Hutchins Hapgood’s account of New York’s Yiddish theaters at the turn of the century, Carl Van Vechten’s review of the Sicilian actress Mimi Aguglia, Alain Locke’s comments on the emerging African-American theater in the 1920s, and Ezra Pound’s response to James Joyce’s play Exiles and theatrical modernism. Enthusiasts for the New Stagecraft, such as Lee Simonson and Djuna Barnes, are matched by champions of pop culture such as Gilbert Seldes and Fred Allen. S. J. Perelman lampoons Clifford Odets; Edmund Wilson acclaims Minsky’s Burlesque; Harold Clurman explains Stanislavski’s Method; Gore Vidal dissects the compromises of commercial playwriting. A host of playwrights—among them Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Lorraine Hansberry, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, David Mamet, and Tony Kushner—are joined by such renowned critics as Stark Young, George Jean Nathan, Brooks Atkinson, and Eric Bentley.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.

Praise For The American Stage: Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner (LOA #203)

“Even in a publishing series as uniformly superb as the invaluable Library of America, there are some books that stand out. This is, without question, one of the Library of America’s stellar contributions to American literature of the past few years—as well as one of the richest and most readable collections of writing on the American stage that you will ever come across.” Buffalo News

Library of America, 9781598530698, 850pp.

Publication Date: April 15, 2010

About the Author

Laurence Senelick is Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory at Tufts University and a recipient of the George Jean Nathan Prize for dramatic criticism. His award-winning books include The Age and Stage of George L. Fox; The Chekhov Theatre: A Century of the Plays in Performance; and The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre. He is also a professional actor, director, and translator who has staged a number of American premieres.