Modern US Drama

How did Americans claim modernity through drama in the early twentieth century? How do the patterns of cultural production and consumption established one hundred years ago continue to shape contemporary work? This class tracks depictions of labor, leisure, and life (the domestic, the romantic, the political) in what has been deemed “literary” or “legitimate” US drama throughout the twentieth and twenty-first century. We will consider major themes such as individual desires and dignity, social obligations, money and work, family dysfunction, conventions of masculinity and femininity, sexuality, the impact of systemic racism, and calls for political resistance. We will analyze genres and performance practices such as American expressionism, realism, postmodernism, collectives, and ensemble work. Plays and productions will be considered within their geographic, cultural, and institutional, and political contexts. Our analysis will emphasize taste formation and, sometimes, how US drama situates itself against/with/near other forms of cultural production, particularly music and film.


Glaspell, Trifles (1916)

O’Neill, The Hairy Ape (1922)

Odets, Waiting for Lefty (1935)

Triple-A Plowed Under (1936)

Ward, Big White Fog (1938)

Williams, The Glass Menagerie (1944)

Miller, Death of a Salesman (1949)

Albee, The Zoo Story (1959)

Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1959)

Brown, The Brig (1963)

Jones/Baraka, Dutchman (1964)

Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf (1975)

Shepard, Buried Child (1978)

Valdez, Zoot Suit (1979)

Split Britches, Split Britches (1981)

Wilson, Fences (1983)

Hwang, M. Butterfly (1988)

Wasserstein, The Heidi Chronicles (1988)

Parks, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead (1990)

Kushner, Angels in America, Millennium Approaches or Perestroika (early 1990s)

Vogel, The Baltimore Waltz (1992)

Tropicana, Milk of Amnesia/Leche de amnesia (1994)


Lee, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven (2006)

Lynn, The Method Gun (2007)

Diaz, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (2009)

Hudes, Water by the Spoonful (2011)

Akhtar, Disgraced (2012)

Baker, The Flick (2013)

Jacobs-Jenkins, An Octoroon (2014)