DRAMA AND COMMITMENT by Gerald Rabkin

DRAMA AND COMMITMENT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

To what extent can art combine with politics to the benefit of both? This book provides a concrete reply to this perennial problem. For one part of a generation in America politics and art did fuse. Most memorably in the drama, the social and political commitment of the thirties nurtured an art form involved with the issues of the time. The author has a twofold purpose here: to examine from the vantage of time and a literary aesthetic the value of what Harold Clurman dubbed the ""fervent years""; and to measure to what extent the dramatic product oriented around a political ethic suffered or gained by that standard. In its most extreme form drama for the masses was conceived as a ""weapon,"" the sharp sword of polemic, by such as the Theater Union. In ventures such as the Theater Group and the government-sponsored Federal Theater, drama, despite socio-political commitment, provided the kind of experimentation which preluded our present-day theater. In so far as the standards of misconstrued Marxism were misapplied as the imprimatur of dramatic worth the decade proved a failure. Dramatic tension and conflict, characterization and tempo never seemed to achieve the perfect equilibrium demanded by the political theoreticians. Ironically, the more that pure unreachable ideal was pursued, the more the play fell into the wasteland of polemic and from the realm of art. The author chronicles the various poles of commitment to this ideal in the work and careers of some of the leading playwrights of the ""fervent"" era: John Howard Lawson, the soon forgotten party hack; Clifford Odets, who lost his sting to Hollywood; S.N Behrman, Elmer Rice and Maxwell Anderson for whom commitment became a literary phase. This work is perceptive in its account of the drift of the plays and is balanced in its judgment. If nothing else it serves as a reminder that the thirties were far from an artistic watershed. The burning ideological questions are past, but a great many plays have persevered and have every indication of continuing.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1964
Publisher: Indiana Univ. Press