This week, I really wanted to put together a Dream English Course on one of my favorite genres: plays. I decided to focus on American plays, which I found both exciting and challenging. Why is almost every “important” American play written by a man? Why can’t I put every Tennessee Williams play in one course? How do I group these very different works together in a cohesive way? Luckily, with a little brain-digging, I put together a list with enough writers who aren’t white/male/straight for me to feel good about it, and I organized them by both general idea and time period. The first unit is meant to be an introduction to American drama, and the rest deal more specifically with various classic themes. I’m excited about it.
Unit I: Things Aren’t So Simple, 1938-1990 (2 weeks)
Texts: Our Town by Thornton Wilder, The Piano Lesson by August Wilson
Questions: How do these plays make the ordinary extraordinary? Why do the stories of these families matter? How do they capture a historical moment? How are they structured? How does their structure effect the experience?
Unit II: That Darn American Dream, 1953-1971 (4 weeks)
Texts: Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, A Hatful of Rain by Michael V. Gazzo, A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel
Questions: What is the American Dream? How do the main characters look for it? What effect does their family have on their quest? Do their desires harm their families, and if so, how? What’s preventing them from achieving their dreams? Is the problem internal, external, or both?
Unit III: Let’s Laugh at Our Dysfunctional Family, 1963-1981 (3 weeks)
Texts: Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon, Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade, Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley
Questions: Why are these plays comedies? How would they differ if they were dramas? How does the genre change family drama? What greater problems do they address?
Unit IV: Defining Gayness, 1934-1993 (5 weeks)
Texts: The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner
Questions: How do the different texts define and discuss homosexuality? Do the characters consider themselves gay? How do other characters perceive them? What other problems to they face besides their sexual identity? How do they cope (or not) with the struggle? How does the subject change throughout the decades?
Unit V: New Century, Same Problems, 1996-2012 (4 weeks)
Texts: The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, Proof by David Auburn, August: Osage County by Tracy Letts, Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn
Questions: What changes in American drama in the twenty-first century? What stays the same? How are these plays structured? What do they reveal about modern society?