The American Stage
Edited by Laurence Senelick
Library of America
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". . . the world where giants and gnomes tread the boards and fret their hours upon the stage."
Murder, mayhem and mystery in the aisles and on the American stage.
The American Stage: Writing on the Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner is a rich mélange of reviews, commentary, articles and history that has been carefully chosen by Laurence Senelick to represent the good, the bad, and the ugly of the theatrical world. It would take more than a few thousand words to touch on all that awaits the reader.
From John Lithgow’s Foreword to Tony Kushner’s obituary on Arthur Miller, whose play, The Crucible is still a standard taught in schools and dissected in colleges, The American Stage covers it all. No other industry has embraced the wildly swinging pendulum of human emotion and outcries than in the theaters across America and in the heart of the theatrical world in New York City. For me, this sampling of writing on the world of the theater can be summed up in two sections: Philip Hone on The Astor Place Riot and Channing Pollock’s Stage Struck.
The fans of two rival actors, Mr. McCready and Mr. Forrest, both of whom appeared as the Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth at the same time in two different theaters. Such was the animosity between the fans that they rioted to keep Mr. McCready off the stage. They saluted him “…with a shower of missiles, rotten eggs, and other unsavoury objects, with shouts and yells of the most abusive epithets.” From May 8th to May 12th, the battle raged until “[t]he whole military force was under arms all night, and a detachment of United States troops was also held in reserve.” According to Philip Hone, rivalries were hard fought in 1849.
Channing Pollock summed up the feeling about the theater in Stage Struck when he described the strange disease that hits high and low. “Nearly everyone struggles with the mania for a time; the wise conquer it, the foolish make up the comic opera choruses, the unimportant road companies, and the stage-door-keeper’s list of ‘extra ladies and gentlemen.’ From every class and walk of life, from every town and city troop the victims, abandoning their vocations and their homes, as though they had heard the witching notes of a siren song.”
We have movies and the Internet and the death of the stage has been decried from its birth to every age since, and still the theater lives on, not only between the pages of The American Stage but in the hearts and minds of every writer of note. This mixture of some of the best writing of the past 100+ years is a delightful way to stir up the embers of that peculiar mania that is the world where giants and gnomes tread the boards and fret their hours upon the stage.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell