United States Theater

At the beginning of the Sixties, the Broadway theater scene is still dominated by the decadent sensationalism of T. Williams (see Orpheus descending of 1957 [trad. It., La calata di Orfeo, in T. Williams, Teatro, Turin 1963], Suddenly last summer, of the same year, Bird of Youth from 1969, The night of the iguana, from 1961 [trad. It., La notte dell’iguana, Turin 1965], The milk train doesnt stop here anymore, from 1963, many of which had great successes also in the cinematographic reduction) and from the echoes of the latest hits by A. Miller, in particular from A view jrom the bridge(trad. it., A look from the bridge, Turin 1967), written and represented in 1955-57. After nine years of silence in which Miller, who in the meantime got married to a living popular myth like M. Monroe and later divorced her, also took care of the worldly news, and not a little, the playwright will return to the fore with a drama autobiographical and introspective, After the fall (trad. it., After the fall, Turin 1964), precisely from 1964, a reworking of the life and death of Marilyn welcomed with unequal moods by audiences and critics.

Meanwhile, in 1959, The connection by J. Gelber and The zoo story by E. Albee were produced, and with them a sort of American theatrical nouvelle vague emerges, which first found space on the off-Broadway stages, that is, outside, from the commercial circuits of the American theater and from the physical Broadway area where most of the big theaters gather, to Greenwich Village but also in other “suburbs” of Manhattan, and which is affected by the European rediscovery of the theater of the absurd and cruelty.

The echoes of this theatrical tradition are clearly perceptible in E. Albee whose first work, precisely The zoo story (trad. It., History of the zoo, in The American dream and other comedies, Milan 1963), rejected by Broadway, will even open in Berlin to move the following year, on the bill with Beckett, to the Provincetown Playhouse off-Broadway.

The best known of Albee’s plays is also his first multi-act work, Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf ? (Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Milan 1963) of 1962, provided with a very strong dialogue (the sense of language is certainly the best of Albee). In it, four characters locked up in a middle-class living room destroy each other, destroying with themselves, better than Albee was able to do in a previous drama (The american dream, 1961), the “American dream”. Tiny Alice, from 1965, with its ambiguous symbolism, A delicate balance, from 1966, Everything in the garden, from 1968, will continue to represent, in a dramatically traditional form, the destructiveness of reality, the ironic dignity of failure.

But the best of American theater in recent years is undoubtedly to be grasped at the level of the staging (see direction ; theater). We should remember the Living Theater of J. Beck and J. Malina, the ‘ Artists’ Theater of H. Machiz and, next to these, the Phoenix, the Cherry Lane, the Theater de Lys.

It will be the Living Theater to stage The connection of J. Gelber, in 1959 (trad. It., Contact, Milan 1963): dark dramatic improvisation with echoes not only of Beckett but also Pirandello, which tends to destroy the antinomy between audience and actors, managing to provoke and offend, also thanks to the deliberate obscenity of his language, audience and critics. It will be the constancy of the company to finally impose it permanently.

Disappointing, so far, his later works. Still interesting are The prodigal and Gallows humor (1961), the tragicomedies by J. Richardson (Italian translation, Laughter on the gallows, in New American theater, Milan 1963), or KH Brown’s excursus into the hallucinating experience of pure madness of an absolute power as it manifests itself in a marines barrack (The brig, 1964; trans it., La prigione, Turin 1967).

On another level, but with skilful use of the elements of black comedy and parody, he moves A. Kopit with Oh dad, poor dad, mama’s hung you in the closet and I’m feeling so sad (1960; trad. It., Oh papa, poor papa, mama hung you up in the closet and I feel so sad, in New American Theater, Milan 1963), staged and directed by J. Robbins. As it was, moreover, inevitable, in the mid-1960s even the off-Broadway theaters appeared too amalgamated by the system. Thus was born an even more informal, iconoclastic and “peripheral” theater, the OOB (Off-Off-Broadway) of small cafes, restaurants, old abandoned churches, where improvisation and spontaneity take center stage. In the off-off-Broadway atmosphere but also, not inexplicably, on the European stages the experiences of many young playwrights (eg P. Foster and J.-C. Van Itallie) are affirmed.

The happenings, often far from improvised, are attended by painters and musicians. The more remote lesson of the dada is flanked by that of contemporary composers such as M. Duchamp and J. Cage.

Finally, in recent years, we have a militant black theater. From the works of J. Baldwin (The Amer corner, 1968; Blues for Mr. Charlie, 1964; trans. Trans., Blues for the white man, Milan 1965), in which the political protest still falls dramatically in modules to the more violent dramatic and political militia of LeRoi Jones, or I. Amir Baraka, for which it becomes diminutive even to consider the black theater as a weapon of protest (thus however postulating the impending presence of a white audience), the theater is however, to present itself as the privileged way through which the black man can take possession of his own cultural identity (The toilet, 1963; Dutchman, 1964; The slave, 1964; Slaveship, 1967; trad. it., The dead preacher, Milan 1968).

In the too easy contrast between the rich, contradictory and ambiguous literary scene of the sixties and early seventies and that of the decade that preceded them, it has been said that the main myths or themes of the American literary tradition seem to definitively fall. It would perhaps be better to say that these issues, rather than disappear, are overturned and upset.

We have already spoken, especially in the context of poetic production, of the particular re-elaborations of the great theme of American innocence; now, considering the other constant myth that is part of it, that of the restorative nature, we will find the bitter parody of it in the atrocious Deliverance, the novel by an excellent poet like J. Dickey. It depicts a totally suburban and diminished nature, a nature now participating in the “raw masculine aggression” that L. Marx associates, in the American tradition, with the machine. The success of the novel’s television reduction is not without significance.

As for One flew over the cuckoo’s nest by Kesey K. (London 1962; trans. Trans., One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Milan 1975) it, as he saw L. Fiedler, makes rough justice of another great American literary myth, that of escape, of the promise of the West, of the noble savage: drugs and madness now appear to be the only unexplored territories towards which the new American can escape. Kesey’s book also had a successful film translation by M. Forman (1975). In this way, paradoxically (but not too much), American literature, by angrily destroying its ideological roots, reunites with the general public.

United States Theater