The first in a projected three-volume work, this book documents American theater during the period following the Civil War until 1914. Other volumes will survey the colonial to pre-Civil War era and the period from mid-1914 on. Bordman is an authority on American theater, having previously edited The Oxford Companion to the American Theatre
(2d ed., 1992) and American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle
, 2d ed. [RBB
Jl 92], among other works.
The present volume presents a year-by-year description of American comedy and drama, primarily from "first class" New York houses. Bordman admits in his preface that this concentration is "distressingly unfair," since many of the more intriguing plays produced during the period were confined to cheaper priced theaters. However, the plays produced for elite audiences are more accessible in manuscript form or through contemporary reviews. Bordman does, however, include some of the melodramas and comedies that became enormously popular, such as Bertha, the Sewing Machine Girl, which, in one form or another, was a hit for 40 years. Lesser houses offered plays dealing with contemporary American issues, while foreign drama dominated the first-class houses for much of the period.
The book is arranged by year. Bordman begins his examination of each year with a brief introduction surveying major developments and trends and then goes on to discuss, in order of their opening, the major plays. His discussion is interspersed with brief biographies of important people, such as writers, players, and theater managers. Unlike The Oxford Companion to the American Theatre, which has a dictionary arrangement, American Theatre: A Chronicle is essentially a narrative. This arrangement has some drawbacks in terms of access, since information is embedded in the narrative. The indexes to plays and to people are vital. It might have been helpful if Bordman had prefaced each section with a list of the major plays and personalities that are discussed. However, the arrangement has a distinct advantage in putting theater into a historical and cultural context and showing interrelationships between plays, writers, actors, managers, producers, and so on. In addition, Bordman's own style, his vast knowledge of the subject, and the many interesting facts and asides he includes in the narrative help provide a real taste of what theater was like during the time.
The index of plays has a subsection that lists sources, such as short stories or novels, for many of the plays. The index of people lists playwrights, writers whose work provided source material, producers, directors, and designers. Performers appear in the index only if they are mentioned on six or more pages. In addition, there is an appendix that provides brief information about the major theaters.
Bordman's useful approach in American Theatre: A Chronicle provides a historical survey similar to that offered by the many volumes of Best Plays Theater Yearbook, begun early in the century and now published by Applause Books. American Theatre is highly recommended as a complement to The Oxford Companion to the American Theatre for larger public and academic libraries.
"This well-written volume will serve students of American theatre for years to come and is essential for all libraries collecting in this area."--Choice
"The arrangement has a distinct advantage in putting theater into a historical and cultural context and showing interrelationships between plays, writers, actors, managers, producers, and so on. In addition, Bordman's own style, his vast knowledge of the subject, and the many interesting facts and asides he includes in the narrative help provide a real taste of what theater was like during the time....Highly recommended as a complement to The Oxford Companion to the American Theatre
for larger public and academic libraries."--Booklist/RBB
"Theatergoers interested in the history of the art form should not miss the landmark publication of [this book]....This is no dry, didactic account of the plays and players of the 1869-1914 period....Bordman's style may be concise but it is also warm and unpretentious."--Happening
"Those who have come to rely on Bordman's Oxford Companion to American Theatre
will not be surprised at the wit, intelligence, and thoroughness of this new work."--Nineteenth-Century Literature
"A sprightly narrative that is much more than a mere compilation of names and dates. A vanished world of farce, melodrama and hardy troupers comes to life agan under Bordman's meticulous scrutiny."--Daily News