Broadway Goes to War: American Theater During World War II

Univ. Pr. of Kentucky. Jun. 2021. 300p. ISBN 9780813180946. $35. THEATER
In this scholarly reminder of the impact of live theater, McLaughlin and Parry, both English professors at Illinois State University, explore how early 20th-century New York stages tackled the political and social ramifications of the emerging threats from Germany and Japan far earlier, and more keenly, than Hollywood. Anti-Nazi plays premiered as early as 1933—six years before Germany invaded Poland—and once the war began, a key difference emerged between theater and film: where film could believably depict ground and air battles, stage plays could not. The most successful plays, therefore, focused on how those on the home front were affected by the economic and social upheavals brought about by the war. Intriguingly, plays produced near the end of the war examined how returning soldiers might recover from physical and psychological wounds, and how prejudices against returning Black and Jewish American soldiers might continue to permeate society. The plights of Japanese Americans, and Asian Americans broadly, and any possible theatrical representations of their experiences are not addressed in this book. In an example of American myth-making, State of the Union, a play depicting postwar unity, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946.
VERDICT An engaging, thorough, slightly academic work about an overlooked period of American drama, perhaps best reserved for theater historians and course-specific studies.
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