Cover image for Staging the war : American drama and World War II
Staging the war : American drama and World War II
Wertheim, Albert.
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Publication Information:
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xviii, 328 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Getting involved : American drama on the eve of World War I -- The drama of the war years -- The dramatic art of Uncle Sam : the government, the drama, and the war -- Airing the war : World War II radio plays -- The aftermath.
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PS338.W67 W47 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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What happened in American drama in the years between the Depression and the conclusion of World War II? How did war make its impact on the theatre? More important, how was drama used during the war years to shape American beliefs and actions? Albert Wertheim's Staging the War brings to light the important role played by the drama during what might arguably be called the most important decade in American history. As much of the country experienced the dislocation of military service and work in war industries, the dramatic arts registered the enormous changes to the boundaries of social classes, ethnicities, and gender roles. In research ranging over more than 150 plays, Wertheim discusses some of the well-known works of the period, including The Time of Your Life, Our Town, Watch on the Rhine, and All My Sons. But he also uncovers little-known and largely unpublished plays for the stage and radio, by such future luminaries as Arthur Miller and Frank Loesser, including those written at the behest of the U.S. government or as U.S.O. musicals. The American son of refugees who escaped the Third Reich in 1937, Wertheim gives life to this vital period in American history.

Author Notes

Albert Wertheim (1941-2003) was Professor of English and of Theatre and Drama at Indiana University. His other books include The Dramatic Art of Athol Fugard: From South Africa to the World (IUP, 2000).

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

This is a fascinating and groundbreaking study of American drama from 1935 to 1955, with a special emphasis on plays written and produced during the war years. Wertheim (English, theater, & drama, Indiana Univ.) points out that films made during that era have been studied in-depth while concurrent plays have suffered neglect; he has rectified this oversight brilliantly, considering the influence of fascism, Nazism, and American involvement in World War II. Plays such as The Doughgirls (directed by George S. Kaufman) are unknown today, but that show ran for 671 consecutive performances. Wertheim explores the reasons why these plays were popular and what the audience may have "heard" that an audience today might miss. Of special interest to the theater scholar (and theater buff) are little-known and unpublished plays for the stage and radio, including works by Arthur Miller and Frank Loesser. Wertheim discusses many works that, on the surface, do not appear to be about the war, but reading them in context reveals themes. The final chapter discusses plays written in the decade after World War II, including South Pacific, Teahouse of the August Moon, No Time for Sergeants, and The Diary of Anne Frank. Highly recommended for all theater collections and academic libraries. [Wertheim died earlier this year after a long bout with cancer.-Ed.]-Susan L. Peters, Univ. of Texas, Galveston (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Wertheim (formerly Indiana Univ., recently deceased) focuses on the years from the Depression until the end of WW II, a period much underserved by literary critics. Typically, Clifford Odets is the last playwright of the 1930s to receive critical attention, and Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie (1944) begins the march through notable drama again. But during the time between the two most pivotal social and historical events in 20th-century America, drama was being written and performed. This exhaustively researched compilation catalogs more than 150 plays by almost as many dramatists, playwrights both well-known and unfamiliar (Eugene O'Neill not included: Wertheim notes that O'Neill remained oddly silent during this period). Material comes from such unlikely locations as the US Treasury and the Military Training Division of the Second Service Command, and Wertheim includes a significant chapter on radio plays. The author provides cogent analyses of the social trends evident in the portrayal of minorities, noting that this drama, so much of it unknown and unread today, essentially laid the groundwork for the avant-garde theater that began to develop in the 1950s. This volume should serve as a massive presence and foundation for future studies of the drama of this period. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels. B. Adler Valdosta State University

Table of Contents

1 Getting Involved: American Drama on the Eve of World War II
2 The Drama of the War Years
3 The Dramatic Art of Uncle Sam: The Government, the Drama, and the War
4 Airing the War: World War II Radio Plays
5 The Aftermath
Primary Texts
Secondary Sources