Staging Yeats in the Twenty-First Century: A Reception History

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An avant garde playwright whose theories of stagecraft evolved through performance experience, W.B. Yeats left a complex body of dramatic materials. This book establishes dramaturgical criteria, based on the playwright’s own words, by which all productions of his plays might be judged. Then, through an analysis of Yeats’s plays in performance, it suggests how new stage productions might best engage audiences without violating either texts or theories. Based on fifty years of study and publication about Yeats’s stagecraft and on direct experience with the plays in production both in America and in Ireland, this study develops dramaturgical plans for new productions and shares with readers behind-the-scenes notes from the author’s American Yeats production and from the first three years of James W. Flannery’s International W.B. Yeats Theatre Festival at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Its basic premise turns on the belief that with new technology and with directors who accept the text as living theatre worthy of imaginative stage productions for a more general audience, rather than period pieces intended for an elite few, Yeats could finally emerge as a dramatist on a scale with Beckett, Strindberg, O’Neill and other major innovators of the modern stage.


“ ... What captivates me about Dr. Fred Lapisardi’s observations is this opportunity to witness afresh the birth of the modern concept of theater, which continues to reverberate into the present. His accounts of Yeats’s reception history offer a model for art and morality that has lost little of its relevance ... This book informs us about an artistic oeuvre which is said to be obsolete but, once it is staged, it can shake up those who have become deadened. Drawing on stories and history, he gives us an impression of the ‘Irish Renaissance’ which could not have spread its faith in the real possibility of bringing about change in man and in society were it not for Yeats’s Celtic thirst for salvation and his theatrical folk poetry ...” – (from the Preface) Professor Heinz-Uwe Haus, University of Delaware

“ ... the strongest aspect of Dr. Lapisardi’s book lies in his thorough treatment of the intentions of Yeats as a dramatist. His opening chapter on the Yeatsian vision of theatre is as good as any I have read ... As a book written by and intended for specialists in literature who are not usually proficient in their knowledge of the theatre (much less the complex ramifications of Yeatsian vision of theatre), what Dr. Lapisardi has produced is a book that will open up the minds and imaginations of his readers to the possibilities of Yeats on the contemporary stage. That in itself is an extremely important contribution to studies of both literature and theatre, but, in particular, studies of Yeats.” – Professor James W. Flannery, Emory University

“ ... In addition to the practical analyses [in this book], Dr. Lapisardi contextualizes his subject within modernist theatrical theory, thereby enabling a richer understanding of Yeats’s development as a playwright. Indeed, Dr. Lapisardi depicts Yeats as an eclectic dramatist whose craft was ever evolving in conjunction with the theatrical innovations of his times ... This book provides readers with more than a scholarly work, but also an essential guide to any director, dramaturge, or teacher endeavoring to tackle Yeatsian drama ...” – Professor Peter Zazzali, The City University of New York

Table of Contents

Preface by Heinz-Uwe Haus
1. Yeats on Yeats: Early Theories Toward a Word-Focused Literary Theatre
2. Uncertain Footing: Land of Heart’s Desire, Cathleen ni Houlihan, and The Hour Glass in Word-Focused Theatre
3. Visions and Revisions: The Shadowy Waters and The King of the Great Clock Tower / A Full Moon in March
4. A Well-Ordered Fable: Deirdre
5. “English Ladies in a Drawing Room”: Three and a Half Ways of Looking at The Dreaming of the Bones
6. Wheels and Butterflies: A Four-Sided Hegelian Clash: Words Upon the Window-pane, Fighting the Waves, The Resurrection, and The Cat and the Moon
7. Rabelaisian Visions: The Player Queen and The Herne’s Egg
8. Two Roads Converge: Purgatory and The Death of Cuchulain
9. “The Cuchulain Cycle,” A Wonderful Night in the Theatre: At the Hawk’s Well, The Green Helmet, On Baile’s Strand, The Only Jealousy of Emer, and The Death of Cuchulain
Appendix I: Selected Scores from Fred C. Adams’ Music for Western Pennsylvania Productions
Appendix II: Western Pennsylvania Performances, Dates and Casts

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