American playwrights try to reinvent the history play

newyorker_logo
by DANIEL POLLACK-PELZNER

Pollack-Pelzner-CanAmericanPlaywrightsReinventtheHistoryPlay-1200

When Bill Rauch applied to become the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in 2007, he pitched an ambitious ten-year project: the festival would commission thirty-seven new plays about moments of change in American history, on the model of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven-play canon. “Shakespeare wrote the history of his people onto the stage,” Alison Carey, who directs what became American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, told me. “Why don’t we do that?” Last week, O.S.F. announced eight more commissions, bringing the total to thirty-two, with five to go. So far, the commissioned playwrights—who include David Henry Hwang, Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, and Young Jean Lee—have written dramas about immigration, Presidential elections, the slave trade, Roe v. Wade, radical politics, and the decline of American industry. The results have raised a tricky question: Is Shakespeare still a useful guide, or do playwrights need to create a new kind of drama if they want to depict American history?

Read the full original report on NewYorker.com >