Technology in American Drama, 1920-1950: 
Soul and Society in the Age of the Machine

March 2003; Dennis G. Jerz -- Greenwood Press

American drama between 1920 and 1950 explores the relationship between humans and machines during an age when technology became increasingly domesticated and accepted as an index to the American dream. The marriage between dramatic art and dramatic technology stems from the physical realities of staging and from the intimate connection of technology with human labor inside and outside the household. This book examines how American dramatists of the 1920s drew upon European Expressionism and innovative staging techniques to develop their characters and themes, and how later playwrights, such as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, established the American dramatic canon when technology had become a conventional and integral component of domestic life.

In the twenties, O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape and Dynamo, Rice’s The Adding Machine and The Subway, and Treadwell’s Machinal tell stories of self-destructive hostility toward advancing mechanization.  In the Thirties, Odet’s agit-prop Waiting for Lefty, Hall-Rogers’ Federal Theatre production Altars of Steel, and Luce’s conservative O! Pyramids illustrate socialized acceptance of the machine, across a wide political spectrum.  Finally, in the Forties, Miller’s All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, and Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire show the deeply intimate penetration of technology into individual and social life, manifesting itself as both an on-stage prop (as a wheel, a light bulb, or a wire recorder) and as an addition to the playwright’s arsenal of dramatic tools.

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