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David Belasco: Naturalism in the American Theatre

David Belasco: Naturalism in the American Theatre

Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    David Belasco: Naturalism in the American Theatre
    Book Description:

    A pioneer of stage naturalism, David Belasco has come to be universally recognized as one of the first important directors in the history of the American stage. Lise-Lone Marker's book is a full-length stylistic analysis and re-evaluation of his scenic art.

    Based on a rich body of primary sources, among which are Belasco's promptbooks and papers, the book synthesizes the aims, methods, and techniques inherent in the naturalistic production style that Belasco developed during the six decades of his career. The elements of that style-the magic reality of his stage settings, his innovations in plastic lighting, his directorial method-are also seen in the context of theatrical developments elsewhere.

    On the basis of this synthesis. Professor Marker reconstructs and analyzes four of Belasco's most important productions, each representative of a distinct phase of his directorial art. Her explorations uncover much new information about Belasco and the American theatre around the turn of the century.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7026-4
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-2)
    Lise-Lone Marker

    Generally regarded as one of the first significant directorial figures in the history of the American theatre and dutifully named in every survey work together with such pioneers of stage naturalism as André Antoine and Constantin Stanislavski, David Belasco has, paradoxically, received none of the critical attention accorded his celebrated European counterparts. Associated as a director neither with a Chekhov nor an Ibsen nor a Strindberg, Belasco’s exuberant theatricality has come to be regarded with prim suspicion by critics concerned mainly with the purely literary aspects of drama. This book, like its flamboyant subject, is not for them. Its aim...

  5. INTRODUCTION Legend’s End
    (pp. 3-6)

    Few men have influenced the American theatre as decisively as David Belasco, and none has been as methodically maligned for his pains. Adherents of the so-called New Stagecraft in the twenties, while drawing upon many of the very methods and innovations of Belasco, conveniently attained the cohesiveness necessary for any revolution by ascribing to him all the collective faults of the naturalistic form they rejected. The critical spokesmen for the militant new movement were, as spokesmen for militant new movements often are, witty, urbane, determined.

    “It goes without saying that Mr. Belasco has no supreme gift of any sort,” proclaimed...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Beginnings
    (pp. 7-33)

    David Belasco arrived in New York City, then as now the theatrical heart of the United States, in 1882. Within a short time he had established a reputation as the nation’s foremost naturalistic director and, subsequently, as a producer of international renown. The beginning of Belasco’s Broadway career in 1882 marked more than simply a significant personal milestone. Changes were taking place at this time which affected world theatre profoundly; stage naturalism was waging a decisive struggle again the older, established theatrical conventions and practices.

    In 1881, one year before Belasco reached New York, Zola published his celebrated essay collection,...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Transition
    (pp. 34-45)

    The years in san francisco served primarily as a period of education for David Belasco, as a prologue to the artistically and stylistically more significant productions he subsequently mounted. During the earlier period he had shown a flair for realistic illusion and had displayed a creative ingenuity which had set him apart. It was not until he came to New York in 1882, however, that his reputation in the theatre became firmly established and his distinct style as a naturalist developed in earnest. Belasco became America’s foremost exponent of a theatrical style in which all the individual elements of a...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Vision and Method
    (pp. 46-118)

    “Beyond the margin of a miniature the whole world can be seen, if the miniature is faithful.”¹ These words of Belasco epitomize, not without eloquence, his belief in the efficacy of presenting an utterly “faithful” miniature of life on his stage. Belasco’s talent lay first and foremost in his eminent ability to exercise theatrical persuasion. The plays he produced were chosen or written by him with a sharp sense of the practical theatre and a concrete image of that theatre invariably in mind. His repertoire consisted not of literary masterpieces but chiefly of romantic, sentimental “well-made plays” and melodramas. Belasco...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER FOUR Costume Plays of Manners and Customs: “Sweet Kitty Bellairs”
    (pp. 119-138)

    The preceding cross section of aims and influences, methods and techniques inherent in the scenic art of David Belasco provides a theoretical foundation upon which one is better able to reconstruct, in a meaningful and fuller manner, certain of the key productions most representative of his art. At least four faces of Belasco’s theatrical style may be distinguished, corresponding, as we have seen, to the categories of plays which he presented. A perennially hardy and successful category in his repertoire comprised what he himself liked to call “costume plays of manners and customs,” productions which featured richly furnished depictions of...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE American Frontier Drama: “The Girl of the Golden West”
    (pp. 139-160)

    The production in 1905 of the vivid frontier drama,The Girl of the Golden West, written and directed by David Belasco, represented a peak in Belasco’s endeavors to present a suggestively picturesque as well as strikingly “real” stage milieu. This popular play subsequently acquired more permanent fame when it became the basis for the libretto of the first grand opera written on an American theme, Giacomo Puccini’sLa Fanciulla del West, which enjoyed a memorable world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini, featuring Belasco as stage director, and starring a sensational cast headed...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Sociological Realism: “The Easiest Way”
    (pp. 161-177)

    From the romantic brilliance of a California sunrise David Belasco moved into the cold, grey light of didactic naturalism with his production in 1909 of Eugene Walter’sThe Easiest Way, “an American play,” according to the program, “concerning a peculiar phase of New York life.” A storm of comment was forthcoming. “Mr. Eugene Walter’s play … is one of the most obnoxious specimens of theatrical trash that have been obtruded on the modern Stage,” declared a disgusted William Winter. “It depicts a segment of experience in the life of a shallow, weak, and vain prostitute, who makes a feeble attempt...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Shakespeare and Naturalism: “The Merchant of Venice”
    (pp. 178-202)

    The first visit to the United States by the Moscow Art Theatre during the season of 1922-1923 provided more than just an opportunity for New York’s theatre public to admire performances by one of the world’s finest and most acclaimed acting companies.¹ It was also the occasion for comparison of the theatrical achievements of Moscow and Broadway. Following a visit, on February 1, 1923, to David Belasco’s production ofThe Merchant of Veniceat the Lyceum, Constantin Stanislavski recorded his impressions in a letter to his associate, Vladimir Nemirovitch-Danchenko. These impressions deserve to be recounted rather fully, because they provide...

  14. EPILOGUE New Theatres for Old
    (pp. 203-210)

    “The theatre always reflects the taste and proclivities of its own time,” Belasco had realized, and during the 1920s, as the winds of artistic change whistled through the flats of the American theatre, Belasco’s time seemed to have passed. Not that this final decade of the aging director’s sixty-year career in the theatre was devoid of arresting productions.The Merchant of Venicehad been preceded two years earlier by his presentation of the Granville-Barker version of Sacha Guitry’sDeburau, hailed as one of the most impressive and beautifully staged productions in the annals of the New York stage; it was...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 211-225)
  16. Chronology
    (pp. 226-228)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-238)
  18. Index
    (pp. 239-248)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 249-249)