Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
Family Drama: American Plays about Families
Families are often fulcrums for drama. This course investigates how talented United States playwrights in the 20th and 21st centuries have used family dynamics to create masterpieces of American drama and how emerging playwrights have responded to these dramatic “parents.” Issues of trauma—including the death of children, incest, and racial violence—will be analyzed in relationship to the strong and positive aspects of familial bonds. Class, race, and sexuality will be important touchstones. But the class as a whole will be devoted to analyzing how “inheritance” works as something to embrace and something to resist in both the history of American drama and in families broadly.
The first part of the quarter will be devoted to reading and discussing together plays by Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, Sam Shepherd, and Lorraine Hansberry, all of whom have secured a place in the canon of American drama. The second part of the class will examine some emerging playwrights who are often writing directly in response to the canonical writers. For example, the first act of Bruce Norris’ 2010 play, Clybourne Park, takes place one hour after the ending of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 Raisin in the Sun. Similarly, David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly(1988) is partially motivated by Puccini’s classical opera Madama Buttlerfly (1904). Thus, we will think about issues of “dramatic inheritance” in relation to family inheritance. When and why is it important to honor one’s elders and when is it important to reject or resist or refuse their legacy?
While we will concentrate on plays here, I have a deep interest in adaptation so I welcome students who may be interested in films made from these plays or the different production histories that emerge if we consider these plays as open score for performances of various kinds.
Two short papers will be required (about 2-4 pages) and a final comparative essay (7-9 pages). Additionally, each student will be asked to give a short talk in class. Final essay can be scholarly or creative.