I’ve mentioned before my abiding affection for the folks who run the Metropolitan Playhouse. I feel extraordinarily lucky to teach earlier American lit (including 19c drama) and the literary cultures of NYC in a neighborhood — one of the few in the world, I’m sure, if not the only one in existence — where you can actually see earlier American plays regularly staged. From Mowatt’s Fashion to Fitch’s The City and Zangwill’s The Melting Pot, the Playhouse is also its own virtual “City on Stage” archive; indeed, I’m pretty sure my idea for the chapter I’m currently writing on that topic gestated over several years of watching Met Playhouse productions.
Of course, our encounter with these plays in such an intimate space differs radically from how 19c and early 20c audiences encountered them — often in enormous theaters. But I’ll take it, and I’ll take my students along as often as possible.
The coming season has a lot to offer theater and Am Lit buffs: They’ll be doing Nowadays by George Middleton (one of Emma Goldman’s favorite American playwrights), a 1914 play that deals with gender issues; O’Neill’s Anna Christie (woo-hoo!), and an adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I’m especially looking forward to the Middleton, since I’m working, when I get a chance between more immediate deadlines, on a chapter of our cultural history that situates Goldman and O’Neill in overlapping, but not identical, theater and intellectual circles. I’d never heard of Middleton before I starting researching Goldman’s lectures on modern drama.
And then there’s Melvillapalooza! For each of the last several seasons, the Playhouse has hosted a festival of small pieces celebrating, roasting, or inspired by famous American authors, including Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne. This year our beloved HM holds pride of place. I can only hope someone dramatizes the death scene from Pierre, one of Melville’s finest NYC scenes!