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Drama — 20th Century
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From Apprenticeship to the Academy [electronic resource]

In this program, Brooks McNamara, expert on 19th-century theater at New York University, and theater historian and author Mary Henderson plot out three crucial transitions in American culture between 1875 and 1914: for budding actors, a shift from apprenticeship to academy-oriented training at centers such as The American Academy of Dramatic Arts; for playwrights, a progression from surface realism to the earliest form of American naturalism; and for America, a change in sensibilities that paved the way for the global, technocentric society of the 20th century. The program also outlines the contributions of impresario David Belasco and the phenomenon of Sarah Bernhardt in the U.S.
2006; 1999

Into the Post-War Era [electronic resource]

This program considers the unique synergy between method acting and poetic realism, as Ellen Adler and Tom Oppenheim, of The Stella Adler Conservatory, and author William Simon track the changes in American theater from pre- to post-World War II society. America's newfound place on the world stage is spotlighted, along with the careers of Paul Robeson, Canada Lee, and Marlon Brando; milestone plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Bus Stop, and The Crucible; and the iconic stature of Times Square, the heart of New York's mainstream theater. The program also sums up more than 200 years of American life as reflected by the theater that has shaped the nation's cultural history.
2005; 1999

Luigi Pirandello [electronic resource]: In Search of an Author

In 1925 Luigi Pirandello brought his troupe to England as part of a worldwide tour. This program re-creates one day in London as "The Einstein of the Theater" watches his plays and, away from the footlights, confronts the paradoxical nature of his life. Portions of Six Characters in Search of an Author; Henry IV; Right You Are, If You Think You Are; and The Rules of the Game are meticulously staged, using actors' accounts, period descriptions, and Pirandello's own comments. Plus, biographical notes written by Pirandello himself provide a new angle on the inner torment that animates his work, while playwright Julian Mitchell and novelist Leonardo Sciascia critically analyze the action as it unfolds.
2009; 1988

August Wilson [electronic resource]: American Dream, in Black and White

In this incisive program, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson returns home to the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1990 to review his life and career. Archival footage and interviews with Wilson, former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, fellow writers, and others provide insights into the African-American experience, from the Great Black Migration to more recent times. Scenes from Jitney, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Two Trains Running reveal the impact of the oral tradition and the blues on Wilson's poetic prose, a skillful blend of art and authenticity.
2005; 1990

Harold Pinter [electronic resource]: Landscape

Sitting across a kitchen table yet worlds apart, Beth and Duff engage in a disturbing but seductive counterpoint of dual monologues, two series of impressionistic images from the wreckage of their relationship that wash up on the waves of consciousness. Thanks to the consummate performances of the late Dame Peggy Ashcroft and David Waller, this outstanding production by the Royal Shakespeare Company-directed for stage and screen by Sir Peter Hall-is quintessential Pinter, laden with irony and stressing two of the playwright's recurring themes: communication and memory.
2007; 1998

Michael Holroyd on George Bernard Shaw [electronic resource]

For biographer Michael Holroyd, playwright George Bernard Shaw is practically an alter ego. Using archival footage and Holroyd's painstaking detective work, this intriguing program questions the extent to which Shaw's life and art fed upon each other, addressing issues including the effects of the triangle between his father, his mother, and Vandeleur Lee on his plays, as seen in Misalliance and Pygmalion. A second theme deals with the reciprocal relationship between biographer and subject. To what extent has Holroyd's point of view shaped audience perception? And how much has the study of Shaw affected Holroyd?
2005; 1988

Daniil Kharms' the Old Woman [electronic resource]

Until recently, the serious works of Russian avant-garde writer Daniil Kharms-his absurdist pieces, the ones laced with irony and steeped in trenchant wit-were known only to the Soviet Union's literary underground. This production, reset in modern-day America, is the first film adaptation of Kharms' novella The Old Woman, a dark comedy about a man trying to get rid of a dead body.
2006; 1999

Prelude and First Curtains [electronic resource]

In this program, Brooks McNamara, expert on 19th-century theater at New York University; theater historian and author Mary Henderson; playwright Michael Dinwiddie; and New York City historian George Thompson examine the efforts at theater-making in America from the 1750s to the eve of the Civil War. Among the topics discussed are actor training; the stage careers of Ira Aldridge, Edwin Forrest, and William Macready; the African Theater Company; the Astor Place Opera House riots; and issues such as immigration and segregation. The program also sets the stage for the entire series by asking questions that are explored over the course of the six episodes.
2006; 1999

T. S. Eliot [electronic resource]: Waste Land

Read by noted actors Michael Gough, Edward Fox, and Eileen Atkins, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land powerfully expresses the disillusionment and disgust of the post-World War I era in Europe. In this program, Professor Frank Kermode, of Cambridge University; Eliot biographer Peter Ackroyd; and poets Sir Stephen Spender and Craig Raine examine the complex nature of Eliot's influential poem, analyze its appeal, and trace the reasons why it became one of the best-known emblems of the 20th century.
2005; 1987

Tennessee Williams and the American South [electronic resource]

This outstanding program traces the life of Tennessee Williams, revisiting the locations in the southern states that were his inspiration. Scenes from Williams' most memorable works, including The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, evoke the atmosphere, characters, and conflicts of the Deep South, while footage of a rare television interview and a dramatic reenactment of the life of the young Tennessee provide new insights into one of America's greatest playwrights.
2006; 1989

Our Town [electronic resource]

It's a little play with all the big subjects in it, wrote Thornton Wilder in a 1937 letter to Gertrude Stein about what has become his most renowned and frequently performed work. Set at the turn of the 20th century, Our Town reveals the ordinary lives of the people in the small town of Grover's Corners, U.S.A. The play's themes of love and marriage, the transitory nature of existence, and the perspective gained when all is inevitably lost to death have helped give the drama universal appeal. Stage Manager, Paul Newman received both Tony and Emmy award nominations for his performance in this Westport Country Playhouse production.
2011; 2003

Exploring the Avant-Garde [electronic resource]: Peter Sellars

Director Peter Sellars says it's fine with him if people hate his controversial theatrical work, and many have taken him up on the offer. Sellars has been director of the Boston Shakespeare Company and the American National Theatre at the Kennedy Center. He's been called bullheaded, sophomoric, and weird; he's also been called a genius, brilliant, exciting, and innovative. He set a Mozart opera in New York's Trump Tower and Shakespeare in a swimming pool, and he even conceived an opera about Richard Nixon's trip to China. But there's a method in all this madness. Theater should be hard, he says. It should shake you up and speak truth to power. Love it or hate it, says Sellars, at least it means you're thinking. In this program with Bill Moyers, Sellars discusses his controversial car [...]

Stage for a Nation [electronic resource]

The National Theatre has entertained Washington since the time of Andrew Jackson, bringing the best of Broadway to Washington (and sometimes sending a play or musical to Broadway), providing a stage for theatrical legends from Edwin Booth to Helen Hayes, casting an influence on the American theater simply because it was the National Theatre and on the nation because theater - even when it appears all froth or fancy - remains a powerful medium that alters in some way all those who watch it. This spectacular program celebrates both the history and the present of the National: its memorabilia survey the history of American taste; institutions of the theater, like Helen Hayes, Pearl Bailey, and Carol Channing, describe the added dimensions of playing to an audience of power brokers and p [...]

Samuel Beckett [electronic resource]: Silence to Silence

The elusive author of Waiting for Godot cooperated in the production of this portrait, which traces Beckett's artistic life through his prose, plays, and poetry. Billie Whitelaw, Jack McGowran, and Patrick Magee-Beckett's great dramatic interpreters-appear in selected extracts from the plays; Beckett specialist David Warrilow narrates a variety of texts.

Peter Shaffer [electronic resource]

The conflict between genius and mediocrity is one of his favorite themes. Amadeus, Equus, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Black Comedy-Peter Shaffer is one of the most successful dramatists of our time. In this program, Shaffer, an Englishman who lives in New York, discusses his views on literature, movies, theater, and music. Part actor, part pianist, he demonstrates his skill at both.

Human Voice [electronic resource]

Ingrid Bergman plays a middle-aged woman going through a psychological crisis as a love affair ends. French playwright Jean Cocteau's one-character drama unfolds in the form of an extended monologue - a one-sided telephone conversation in which the woman tries to win back her lover despite her growing suspicion that he is calling from his young fiancée's home.

Broadway Goes Hollywood [electronic resource]: Musical Comedy in American Cinema

Beginning with the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927, this program provides a detailed look inside that most distinctly American of film traditions, the musical comedy. Interviews with dancer Cyd Charisse, famous for her starring roles in MGM musicals, and Hermes Pan, renowned choreographer and collaborator with Fred Astaire, help to illuminate the advent and evolution of the genre. Excerpts and behind-the-scenes accounts from Singin' in the Rain, 42nd Street, Second Chorus, Flying Down to Rio, The Wizard of Oz, and many other films are included. Specific topics include the impact of the Hays Code, the influence of African-American dance styles, and the decline of the musical during the 1960s.
2009; 2008

John Osborne [electronic resource]: Look Back in Anger

Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson star in this production of one of the great classics of post-war British drama. The play's protagonist is Jimmy Porter, who, as a child, watched his father die poor and alone and has grown up to be an angry young man who despises the establishment and vents his bitterness and frustration on his wife and her upper-class background. The playwright himself hailed Kenneth Branagh as "the best Jimmy Porter ever." Emma Thompson plays the wife who must be made to feel pain equal to Jimmy's so that their marriage can survive.

A Conversation With Somerset Maugham [electronic resource]: From NBC's Wisdom Series

Filmed at Somerset Maugham's villa at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the Mediterranean, this program from the NBC archives features the author and playwright in a far-ranging 1965 conversation with British critic and journalist Alan Pryce-Jones. Maugham speaks about a recent trip to the far East; the writing of Of Human Bondage; his time as a medical student at St. Thomas Hospital; his view of Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and Leaves of Grass as the best American books; his challenges in writing both plays and fiction and his reasons for ceasing to write for the stage; his admiration for Rudyard Kipling, whose imperialist notions Maugham acknowledges to be outmoded; and his views on Sinclair Lewis, Voltaire, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Proust, French Impressionism, opera, and creative writing scho [...]

Double Solitaire [electronic resource]

Under pressure to reaffirm their marriage vows, two middle-aged people explore their dreams and the present direction of their lives. "Infinitely perceptive and deeply touching" (Newsday), this play features a stellar cast including Emmy winners Richard Crenna and Susan Clark, Emmy nominees Irene Tedrow and Harold Gould, and Norma Crane.