American drama


20th Century Blues

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Four women bond and become one another's timetable of history. Through the vagaries of love, careers, children, lost causes and tragedy, the women reunite once a year for a photo shoot, chronicling their changing (and aging) selves. But, when these private photographs have the potential to become part of a public exhibit, mutiny erupts and relationships are tested. The images unearth secrets and force the women to question who they are, what they've become, and how they'll navigate whatever lies ahead.


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

7/11 by Kia Corthron is a short play based on the September 11th attacks.

audio 8

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Martin Sheen lead an all-star cast in a powerful portrait of an American civil rights struggle, written by Dustin Lance Black (Milk, J. Edgar) and directed by Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men).

In November 2008, California’s Proposition 8 stripped the freedom to marry away from gay and lesbian couples. Now, two of the nation’s most renowned attorneys, under the auspices of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, have joined forces to challenge Proposition 8 under the United States Constitution. “8” faithfully recreates the progression of the historic 2010 federal trial through original court transcripts and interviews conducted with the plaintiffs, as their stories are brought to life before a live audience. Exclusive interviews include: - Dustin Lance Black and Rob Reiner, playwright and director of “8” - David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, lead attorneys for the plaintiffs challenging Proposition 8 - Backstage interview montage with actors George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and James Pickens, Jr. A full-cast performance featuring: Brad Pitt as Chief Judge Vaughn Walker George Clooney as David Boies Martin Sheen as Theodore B. Olson Kevin Bacon as Charles Cooper Jamie Lee Curtis as Sandy Stier Christine Lahti as Kris Perry John C. Reilly as David Blankenhorn Jane Lynch as Maggie Gallagher Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Dr. Ilan Meyer Matthew Morrison as Paul Katami Chris Colfer as Ryan Kendall Yeardley Smith as Dr. Nancy Cott Matt Bomer as Jeff Zarrillo George Takei as Dr. William Tam Rory O’Malley as Dr. Gregory Herek Cleve Jones as Evan Wolfson James Pickens, Jr. as Dr. Gary Segura Jansen Panettiere as Elliott Perry Bridger Zadina as Spencer Perry Vanessa Garcia as Clerk Campbell Brown as Broadcast Journalist Directed by Rob Reiner. Recorded before a live audience at the Wilshire Ebell Theater, Los Angeles on March 3, 2012.

Featuring: Kevin Bacon, Matt Bomer, Campbell Brown, George Clooney, Chris Colfer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Vanessa Garcia, Cleve Jones, Christine Lahti, Jane Lynch, Matthew Morrison, Rory O'Malley, Jansen Panettiere, James Pickens Jr., Brad Pitt, John C. Reilly, Martin Sheen, Yeardley Smith, George Takei, Bridger Zadina

audio Abundance

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

From the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Crimes of the Heart comes this poignant but unromanticized story of the hard lives of pioneers on the high plains of Wyoming in the 1860's. Macon and Bess are two mail-order brides, lured to the West by the promise of new beginnings through marriage to men they’ve never met. While waiting for their respective husbands-to-be, one bubbling with optimism, the other mousy and plain, the two women become instant best friends. As Abundance follows the two women through their friendship and adventures for the next 25 years, this Western epic unearths the dark underside of American mythology.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Ed Begley Jr., Gary Cole, Amy Madigan, Steven Weber and JoBeth Williams.

Featuring: Ed Begley Jr., Gary Cole, Amy Madigan, Steven Weber, JoBeth Williams

audio After the Fall

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Arthur Miller’s famous autobiographical drama takes place inside the tortured mind of a 40-year-old lawyer. Quentin is haunted by his disastrous affair with a needy sex symbol - a character rumored to be based on Marilyn Monroe, Miller’s second wife.

Featuring: Amy Brenneman, Anthony LaPaglia, Amy Pietz, Amy Aquino, Gregory Itzin, Claudette Nevins, Natalija Nogulich, Al Ruscio, Raphael Sbarge, Kenny Williams


Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

 Go where there's violence.

Silicon Valley. The future. A rocket launches.

Luke is an aerospace billionaire who can talk to anyone. But God is talking to him. He sets out to change the world. Only violence stands in his way.

Christopher Shinn's gripping play received its world premiere at the Almeida Theatre on 12 August 2017 in a production directed by Ian Rickson and featuring Ben Whishaw as Luke.

The Age of Consent

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Age of Consent places in counterpoint two acutely uncomfortable monologues about childhood, responsibility and the shattering of innocence.

One voice is a teenager awaiting his release from a correctional facility after serving his time for the murder of a child. The other is the young mother of a child performer, ruthlessly scheming for fame and fortune, and making sure her daughter will do absolutely whatever it takes.

The characters are united by a sense of denial, as well as the humanity that can exist behind even the most monstrous abuse. Morris’s controversial and powerful play premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in 2001, and was condemned and acclaimed for tackling the subject of child killers.

audio Agnes of God

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In this contemporary murder mystery, set within the confines of a convent, Agnes is a devout, innocent young nun accused of infanticide. As a psychiatrist, herself a lapsed Catholic, and the Mother Superior struggle over Agnes' fate, the play plunges deeply into the mystery of faith and the consequence of truth.

Includes an interview with Dr. Kevin Orlin Johnson, author of "Why Do Catholics Do That.”

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Barbara Bain, Emily Bergl and Harriet Harris.

Featuring: Barbara Bain, Emily Bergl, Harriet Harris

audio Aliens in America

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Contemporary satirist Sandra Tsing Loh spins a darkly comic, autobiographical tale of growing up middle class Chinese-German in Southern California. This witty monologue is for sons and daughters everywhere who feel that their parents must have been beamed to earth from another planet.

An L.A. Theatre Works solo performance featuring Sandra Tsing Loh.

Featuring: Sandra Tsing Loh

audio All My Sons

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

World War II is over and a family, mourning a son missing in action, plants a memorial tree and tries to go on with their lives. A storm blows down the tree and a devastating family secret is uprooted, setting the characters on a terrifying journey towards truth. Based upon a true story, All My Sons is a classic drama by one of America’s greatest playwrights.

At the heart of All My Sons lies a scathing criticism of the American Dream. After its publication Arthur Miller was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he famously refused to give evidence against others. A Tony Award Winner for Best Author (1947). Includes an interview with historian Bill Yenne, author of “The American Aircraft Factory in World War Two”, one of his many works that chronicle the history of wartime aviation and manufacturing. An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring: Julie Harris as Kate Keller James Farentino as Joe Keller Arye Gross as Chris Keller Mitchell Hebert as Dr. Bayliss Naomi Jacobson as Ann Barbara Klein as Lydia Paul Morella as George Michaeleen O'Neil as Sue Nathan Taylor as Bert Jerry Whiddon as Frank Directed by Nick Olcott. Recorded at Voice of America, Washington DC.

Featuring: James Farentino, Arye Gross, Julie Harris, Mitchell Hebert, Naomi Jacobson, Barbara Klein, Paul Morella, Michaeleen O'Neil, Nathan Taylor, Jerry Whiddon

By coincidence, the dawn of the twentieth century saw marked changes in the American theatre. Lester Wallack, whose family led the most prestigious American ensemble for many decades, retired in 1887 and left no successor. Augustin Daly died suddenly in 1899. A. M. Palmer encountered financial problems and withdrew as a major producer. But these men, while supremely important to nineteenth-century theatre, had done little to promote American drama. Wallack's troupe emphasized classic English comedy and contemporary British drama. Daly relied largely on German farces. Palmer was distinguished by his mountings of French melodrama.

Native American playwriting was to a large extent in the hands of a few dedicated pioneers, who usually met with no better than modest success. The most enduring American plays of the nineteenth century were generally associated with major performing stars, who kept them alive season after season. Notable examples would be Joseph Jefferson in Rip Van Winkle, Frank Mayo in Davy Crockett and Denman Thompson in The Old Homestead. But Mayo died in 1896 and Jefferson retired in 1904. Thompson continued a little while longer, but he too died in 1911.

In 1895 a group of Jewish entrepreneurs who had risen to positions of importance as producers and theatre owners met secretly to form an organization that became known as the Theatrical Syndicate or Theatrical Trust. Publicly they professed that their sole purpose was to bring order out of the chaos that had developed since the growth of railroads had made it convenient for Broadway producers to tour their successes or send out road companies. Unfortunately, the group soon proved as unethical and brutal as monopolists in other industries, demanding kickbacks, reducing salaries and denying bookings to anyone who would not acquiesce to their exorbitant terms. Called ‘brick and mortar men’ by their detractors, their interest in making profits led them to seek safety in tested successes, which at the time generally meant importing shows which had proven their popular appeal in the West End. In 1900 the Shubert brothers, who had enjoyed some success in upstate New York, came to New York City and announced their intention of defying the Syndicate. Their success was startling and immediate, but as their power grew they became as demanding and as unethical as the group they had replaced.

Inevitably, the hue and cry raised by frustrated American dramatists, by the American press and, in good measure, by American playgoers at a time of growing American self-esteem forced the Shuberts, the Syndicate and smaller producers to heed the call for more native works. Younger American dramatists had the example of Bronson Howard who, between 1870 and 1889, had doggedly persisted in creating plays on American themes, or at least with American settings. There was also the example of the popular actor-dramatist, William Gillette, especially his Civil War plays, Held by the Enemy and Secret Service, gripping melodramas mounted in 1886 and 1896. However, Gillette's most popular piece was his adaptation of Sherlock Holmes (1899). For the rest of his career Gillette was largely content to revive this tremendous hit or appear in other men's works. Clyde Fitch rose to fame with his Beau Brummell in 1890, but virtually all of his subsequent successes focused on American high society, especially its women. Until his early death in 1909 he was by far the American theatre's most prolific, popular and successful dramatist, though many critics chided him for what they perceived to be his superficiality.

Of course, the critics themselves were changing. The dean of nineteenth-century American play reviewers was unquestionably William Winter, critic for the Tribune from 1865 to 1909. Sadly, with the rise of realism in the 1880s and the coming of Ibsen shortly thereafter he became increasingly backward-looking, shrill and vituperative. A truly new and fine school of American critics did not appear on the scene until shortly before the First World War.

But most critics, conservative or progressive, did welcome one play as a harbinger of greater things to come. That play was William Vaughn Moody’s The Great Divide, which was produced in 1906 and which powerfully and poetically dramatized the growing differences in the philosophies and ways of life of stodgy Easterners and more openminded Westerners. Like Fitch, Moody died early, leaving unanswered the question how far his promise might have been fulfilled.

One other important playwright of this period was Augustus Thomas. His interest in American matters was manifested in the titles of many of his better works, such as Alabama, In MizzouraM and Arizona. An excellent, devoted constructionist, his plays probed more deeply than Fitch's but lacked Moody's breadth and poetry.

Two technological developments altered the course and nature of the American theatre during these years. The first was the coming of electrification. Auditoriums began to be lit with electric lights in the late 1880s (although for some years most houses kept their gas systems at the ready in case of outages). Very shortly thereafter stage lighting was introduced. For several decades it remained primitive by later standards, and many prominent players detested it for the harsh truths it revealed. To cite one example, the practice of older performers playing much younger characters, a very common occurrence until then, had to be abandoned. The second technological development was the coming of films. When first introduced publicly at vaudeville houses in the mid-1890s they were, of course, both silent and black-and-white. Some comedies and musicals introduced brief filmed segments to show such broadly moving affairs as bicycle races or automobile chases; but films were still largely dismissed as a passing novelty, and their effect on mainstream theatres was, indeed, slow to be seen. However, at the turn of the century the United States had a huge circuit of lesser playhouses which charged far lower than first-class prices and offered their seemingly loyal lower-class patrons a steady diet of cliffhanging melodramas and slapdash musicals. To the surprise of many, the loyalty of these lower-class playgoers was not as unyielding as had been hoped. They embraced the new films and abandoned their playhouses so swiftly and in such numbers that by 1910 the circuit had totally disappeared.

Yet for all the changes occurring in turn-of-the-century American theatre, in retrospect these years are more clearly seen to have been merely a bridge between the patterns which prevailed in much of the nineteenth century and the newer ideas and practices which emerged with remarkable force just as Europe became embroiled in the First World War. Many in an increasingly affluent, better-educated and more thoughtful middle class were becoming restless with a perceived commercialism and shallowness in the theatre. They were not the first to reject the ways of mainstream theatre, but earlier signs of discontent had flared briefly then sputtered out of existence. Not so the new groups, or at least their influence on American stages. In 1914 the Liberal Club, a cluster of intellectuals, rejected the idea of a dramatic branch, so a number of disappointed members banded together to start up their own theatrical group. They named this group the Washington Square Players, after the New York City park nearby, where they first worked out their scheme. They began by mounting one-act plays, only later moving on to full-length works, and much of what they presented was of European origin. Although the group was dissolved in 1918, it called attention to the need for fresh thinking in the American theatre, and it gave a significant boost to such figures as Katharine Cornell and Lee Simonson. Most importantly, many of its most influential members subsequently founded the Theater Guild.

Within months of the founding of the Washington Square Players a coterie of somewhat more determinedly intellectual theatre aficionados began producing plays in a converted wharf in Massachusetts. The Provincetown Players, led at first by the husband-and-wife playwrights George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell, eventually moved to New York City and continued to flourish until the mid-1920s. Called in one history ‘more a laboratory than a theatre', Provincetown gave major opportunities to such young hopefuls as Robert Edmond Jones, Paul Green and, most of all, Eugene O’Neill.

Besides these professional organizations, adventurous semi-professional and amateur ensembles began to spring up across the country. Gilmor Brown's Pasadena Community Playhouse, founded in California in 1918, exemplifies the former. Maurice Browne, after several false starts (one of which inspired the Washington Square Players), created the Chicago Little Theater in 1919. During the 1920s and 1930s more than 500 little theatres blossomed all across America. However, these amateur ensembles, although a source of frequently excellent entertainment, soon lost any urge to experiment and, as a rule, were content to mount recent Broadway successes. The Second World War and the coming of television in the late 1940s spelt finis for most of them.

These organizations were lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. The First World War was cutting off easy access to European talents and ideas, and was fanning a disenchantment with all things European, all the while encouraging a still greater waxing of American self-esteem (some would say chauvinism). This assured American dramatists, composers, performers, directors, designers, and others an unparalleled opportunity, of which they were quick to take advantage. Furthermore, a war-born prosperity, which was to continue with one minor interruption until late 1929, encouraged theatregoing, which in turn promoted an unparalleled explosion of theatre construction and play production. When Broadway peaked during the 1927–8 season, it boasted more than 80 major theatres and offered playgoers between 260 and 270 productions. Native artists therefore had a fine chance of having their work on stage.

Probably no native artist figured as importantly in this renaissance as Eugene O'Neill. Certainly his contemporaries thought so, and subsequent students have for the most part agreed. The son of a famous actor who had wasted most of his career touring profitably in one popular melodrama, O'Neill was obsessed with a singularly tragic vision of life. His early one-acters were mounted by the Provincetown Players, but it was the Theater Guild's production of his Beyond the Horizon in 1920 which established his uniqueness and greatness. In season after season his works not only revealed his unusual perspectives, but demonstrated his willingness to tackle then theatrically dangerous subjects such as miscegenation and tuberculosis as well as to use out-of-the-ordinary forms such as expressionistic drama and plays so long they required a lengthy intermission to allow patrons to have dinner.

However, O'Neill was far from the only new playwright of worth to emerge at this time. The 1910s and 1920s saw the appearance of Elmer Rice, George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Philip Barry, Maxwell Anderson, Robert E. Sherwood and other authors who, among them, offered playgoers a wide variety of high-quality works ranging from tragedy to social drama to farce to high comedy.

The American Musical Theatre flowered brilliantly at the same time. Jerome Kern's 1914 interpolations in the imported London musical The Girl from Utah made him famous and began the years-long popularity of the dance-based love ballad. Later in the same year Irving Berlin, already famous for his ‘Alexander's Ragtime Band’ and other Tin Pan Alley ditties, had a huge success with Watch Your Step, a musical whose songs were all composed in the ragtime idiom. In relatively short order a host of brilliant young melodists appeared, including Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Vincent Youmans and Arthur Schwarz. These men primarily wrote musical comedies. Their music experimented not only with harmonies and modulations that had hitherto been confined to black music, but also with traditional musical-comedy-song form. They were fortunate in being able to work with some equally brilliant young lyricists and librettists, such as P. G. Wodehouse (on his visits from England), Oscar Hammerstein II, Lorenz Hart, Ira Gershwin and Dorothy Fields. (Berlin and Porter served as their own lyricists.) Two middle European immigrants, Rodlf Friml and Sigmund Romberg, also called attention to themselves in the 1910s and went on to reinvigorate, at least briefly, the American version of Ruritanian operetta. Many students believe that it was the work of these men and women and their associates that was to be the crowning glory of the American theatre for the next half-century. Certainly the American musical for a time had more success and more influence on foreign stages than non-musical American theatre.

In terms of numbers the Shuberts were Broadway's busiest producers throughout the 1920s, but they leaned heavily on ‘girlie’ revues, old-fashioned operettas, farces and other supposedly surefire entertainments. More venturesome writers turned to other producers. Most notable was the Theater Guild which, from its start, attempted a schedule balanced between exciting importations from Europe and new American plays. Almost immediately it became the producer-of-choice of O'Neill and other leading new playwrights. With its subscription lists, its great contracted players (the Lunts, Edward G. Robinson, Dudley Digges, etc.), and its policy of relatively short runs, the Guild for a short time appeared on its way to becoming a national repertory theatre. But there was also a surprising number of artistically minded independent producers who entered the scene in the 1910s and 1920s. Among them were Winthrop Ames, Arthur Hopkins and Richard Herndon.

When the best producers offered works of the best young writers their productions were assessed by some notably knowing, thoughtful and interesting new critics. The first to appear may have been Walter Prichard Eaton, a knowledgable and reasonable reviewer, now largely forgotten. Better remembered are such observers as George Jean Nathan, Stark Young and Brooks Atkinson. Their influence among their contemporaries and their enduring fame owe as much to their ability to stir controversy (as with Nathan) or their long loyalty to a major newspaper (as with Atkinson) as to their general excellence. The best critics of the era all maintained a healthy double standard, judging shows designed purely for light entertainment by one set of criteria and evaluating more serious, demanding works by another. As a corollary of show-by-show criticism, the establishment in 1918 of a Pulitzer Prize for drama not only reflected the perception that a theatrical revolution had begun but also served to create an ongoing series of exemplars.

The introduction of sound films in 1927, followed two years later by the stock market crash, devastated live theatre in America. Many of the theatre's best talents rushed to Hollywood and never returned to Broadway. By 1937 the number of new productions had dropped to under 100 a season; the number of active playhouses in New York was halved. In outlying cities the case was the same or worse. Philadelphia had ten first-class playhouses at the height of the boom, by the late 1930s only three were open. For the most part, however, Broadway still offered playgoers a wide variety of plays, although ‘girlie’ revues, operettas and bedroom farces became notably scarce. On the other hand, plays with clearly propagandistic aims came to the forefront. Many were mounted by the Federal Theater Project, a government-subsidized attempt to keep theatre people employed at a time of long breadlines. At its peak it gave work to 10,000 stage folk. However, the project, having been authorized by Congress in 1935, took on an increasingly militant left-wing stance which alienated many Congressmen, and it was abolished in 1939. Nevertheless, commercial Broadway also reflected the same concerns. In 1931 Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg, chagrined at the Theater Guild's adamantly apolitical policies, broke away to found the Group Theater. Their most important playwright was Clifford Odets, and for a few seasons he and others provided the new company with a succession of powerful, unmistakably political plays. But by the late 1930s Odets seemed written out, and deserted the stage for films. His departure, plus internal wrangling, led to the Group Theater's dissolution in 1940. A more interesting and somewhat longer-lived organization was the Playwrights’ Company. Like the Group Theater, it was a breakaway from the Theater Guild, this time by a group of established dramatists who were irked by the Guild's niggardliness and other failings. The initial members included Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Sidney Howard, Elmer Rice and Robert E. Sherwood. Their plays, beginning with Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1938), continued to cover the wide variety of styles and approaches that had been their wont. The company continued to produce fine plays until it was disbanded in 1960, by which time other interests or death had removed most of the founders from the scene.

One prominent new writer, whose works were unassociated with any of these groups was Lillian Hellman. Starting in 1934 with The Children's Hour, she provided the theatre with a succession of biting, often controversial dramas. The 1930s also witnessed the growth of union militancy, which led to exorbitant pay scales, featherbedding and other practices which were to have an unfortunate effect on theatrical economics.

The war-bred prosperity of the first half on the 1940s glossed over some growing economic difficulties and led to longer runs for successful shows. Even so, the number of first-class productions continued to drop: for example, the 1949–50 season saw only 57 premières. Although the total rose in some subsequent seasons, worse was yet to come. Nevertheless, two major new playwrights came to the fore in this decade: Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Williams was revealed as a brilliant, poetic apostle of social decadence. Miller's plays were more prosaic studies of familial and social dilemmas. Equally significant was the renaissance in the musical theatre initiated by the success of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's Oklahoma! in 1943. In the ballyhoo accompanying the show's popularity claims were made that it had launched a new genre called the musical play, a type of musical that carefully integrated song and story. Actually the show was merely a totally American operetta, combining the use of American musical idioms with a distinctly American setting. Jerome Kern and Hammerstein's 1927 hit, Show Boat, had pioneered the style years earlier. What was uniquely integrated was the dancing – modern ballets rather than the old tap routines and drills. For better or worse, this school of musicals was more seriously self-conscious in its artistry and, indeed, in its tenor. Even musical comedy became less joyously musical and less carefree in its comedy. New names on the musical scene included Leonard Bernstein, Jule Styne and Frederick Loewe among composers; Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Alan Jay Lerner among lyricists and librettists.

The diminution of production on Broadway and the consequent falling off of attractions for major touring theatres in outlying cities (to no small extent a reflection of the fast-growing attraction of television) led to the beginnings of two major theatrical developments in the very late 1940s and early 1950s. In 1947 Margo Jones founded Theater ‘47 in Dallas. A totally professional company, as opposed to the amateur little theatre groups, it presented programmes of exciting new works and occasional classical revivals. The widespread acclaim accorded the organization heralded the growth of regional theatre, which was to become one of the strengths and glories of the American theatre in the latter half of the century. Miss Jones's theatre closed in 1959, four years after her premature death, but such ongoing groups as Washington's Arena Stage and the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis exemplified the burgeoning of regional theatre all across America. At the same time, small playhouses, often seating only 100–200 playgoers, began cropping up in Manhattan's Greenwich Village and other areas of New York City away from the main theatre district. Before long, much of the theatrical excitement that Broadway had monopolized was usurped by what became called off-Broadway.

Broadway in the 1950s witnessed the meteoric career of William Inge, whose sentimental social dramas of Midwestern life were tremendously popular. Perhaps more importantly, it saw the posthumous production of several towering Eugene O'Neill dramas, most notably Long Day's Journey into Night. The musical theatre continued to flourish, bringing forth such masterpieces as My Fair Lady, West Side Story and Gypsy.

The 1960s began with the promise of the Kennedys’ ‘Camelot’, soon destroyed by political tragedy, social turmoil and a disheartening inflation. Inevitably, the theatre was affected adversely by these developments, although the number of plays mounted in first-class theatres rose very slightly for much of the decade. The older generation of playwrights continued to die off, while the younger dramatists, especially Williams and Inge, went into slides from which they never recovered. Only Miller brought out interesting new works intermittently. As if the nation wished to laugh away its growing malaise, the lone new writer of major stature proved to be Neil Simon, whose very Jewish slant on New York life provided comic relief through the decade and onwards into the 1990s with such plays as Barefoot in the Park, Plaza Suite and the semi-autobiographical trilogy that started with Brighton Beach Memoirs. Several more serious writers emerged with single notable successes, but only Edward Albee, who had first won attention with one-acters off Broadway, seemed destined for prolonged development and success. Sadly, only one of his later plays matched the acclaim of his trenchant Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? A few of his other dramas received some critical approval, but, too often, his works became increasingly cryptic and ultimately vituperative.

There is some consensus that the American musical theatre's 50-year heyday ended after the première of Fiddler on the Roof in 1964. Its songwriters, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, had come to the fore in the late 1950s, and they were followed by such equally superior composers and lyricists as Cy Coleman, Charles Strouse, John Kander and Fred Ebb. However, these artists almost never saw their songs achieve the sort of national renown enjoyed by their predecessors', since by the mid-1960s rock and roll had swept more traditional styles off the airwaves and virtually monopolized the lists of best-selling records. Although a handful of fine rock-and-roll musicals did appear (mostly off Broadway), for various reasons, including its largely ageing audience, Broadway itself seemed uncomfortable with rock and roll.

The growth and maturity of Off-Broadway were recognized in the 1970s when works performed here were awarded Pultizer Prizes for the first time. No fewer than three Off-Broadway plays won the award during the decade. Similarly, one Broadway success which earned the prize and one of the Off-Broadway winners had initially been presented in regional theatres. Indeed, the most important playwrights to emerge in the decade were all at first identified with Off-Broadway, albeit several subsequently enjoyed some success on Broadway. Sam Shepard's writing revealed his interest in low types and in the mythology of the American Southwest. David Rabe became the spokesman for those unhappily engulfed in the Vietnam War. The most forceful and variegated of the new dramatists was probably David Mamet, who went on to achieve major success on Broadway. In a lighter vein, Terrence McNally demonstrated a deft comic touch in dealing with lower middle- class Easterners. For the musical theatre, one of the most significant events was the coming of age of Stephen Sondheim, who earlier had shown remarkable skills as a lyricist and then as a songwriter. Beginning with Company in 1970, he presented Broadway with a series of fascinatingly original musicals. His unique, adventuresome musical style, while not as endearing as that of older melodists, was coupled with his exceptional brilliance as an observant, misanthropic lyricist, and he imbued his librettists with his singular outlook. With the perceived paucity of great writing talent, directors and choreographers (and sometimes director-choreographers) became increasingly responsible for the creation of new musicals. Hal Prince, Gower Champion, Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett and, later, Tommy Tune played primary roles in moulding new musicals. The outstanding example of this trend was A Chorus Line, which opened in 1975 and ran for 15 years to establish a long-run record for its time in New York. Concurrently, Broadway began to welcome a relatively large number of English and, eventually, French musicals. In this respect, historians could see the American musical stage come full circle, since, when it first began to flourish in the late 1860s, it was French opéra bouffe and then the shows of Gilbert and Sullivan and their successors that inspired the earliest American song and dance entertainments.

The history and reception of the two most interesting American playwrights to win wide recognition in the 1980s suggests in some small measure why Broadway suffers from some of its current ailments. Certainly the most trumpeted and garlanded of the new writers has been August Wilson, who has offered Broadway a number of new plays, each dealing with the lives of American blacks in a different decade. His first success was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom in 1984. It depicted the hard, sometimes violent life of a singer in the 1920s. His plays contained magnificently theatrical scenes, but their writing often seemed slapdash, incorporating mysticism, music, violence and whatever else might have momentary effect; overall, his writing seemed sloppy. Nevertheless, in 15 years his plays won two Pulitzer Prizes and five Drama Critics Circle Awards. By contrast, the writings of A. R. Gurney display superior craftsmanship and are superbly witty. But he deals with American high society and that seems a subject clearly out of vogue. As a result his works have been largely confined to Off- Broadway and regional theatres.

The problem is that in most American cities only one major newspaper survives. In New York, the Times is so powerful it can usually make or break a play. Musically, the stage has been dominated by the spectacular productions of Englishmen and Frenchmen, notably the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Financially the picture is distressing. Inflation on Broadway is seemingly out of hand. While annual total grosses have risen steadily, they have risen because of ticket prices, not because of attendance figures, which have usually remained flat and occasionally dropped. Theatregoing has become a special event, not a regular habit, as of old. And most special events have been musicals. Non-musicals have suffered. The trade paper Variety reported that when Katharine Hepburn's vehicle, West Side Waltz, closed during the 1982–3 season, for the first time in memory not a single nonmusical play was on tour. Variety also bewailed the fact that the total of 31 new Broadway productions (musicals and non-musicals) during the 1984–5 season was the lowest in history. At the end of the century, matters have improved slightly; but it remains to be seen if this good news is a fluke.

from Gerald Bordman, The Continnum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).