Saturday, June 30, 2018

Immigrant Dramatists

Today there were protests all across the United States in support of immigrants, so I wanted to blog about some of the great American dramatists who were immigrants:

Dion Boucicault - Born in Ireland, Dion Boucicault moved to England where he rose to fame with his play London Assurance, which Madame Vestris produced at Covent Garden. After a string of hits in London, he moved to New York, where he conquered Broadway with his melodrama The Poor of New York. The play was actual adapted from a French work, but Boucicault went on to write the quintessentially American play The Octoroon, which Branden Jacobs-Jenkins recently adapted for the 21st century. Boucicault is perhaps the first truly great American playwright. (Though you could argue for the French-born Anna Cora Mowatt.) And, of course, he was an immigrant.

Kurt Weill - Don't you love "Mack the Knife," "September Song," and "The Saga of Jenny"? All of those hit Broadway songs were written by the German immigrant Kurt Weill. "Mack the Knife" of course came from The Threepenny Opera, which Weill originally wrote in Berlin with Bertolt Brecht and Elizabeth Hauptmann. Being as he was a gay Jewish leftist, Weill had to flee Hitler's Germany, first to Paris, then London, and eventually New York. That's where he collaborated with Maxwell Anderson on Knickerbocker Holiday, which gave us the jazz standard "September Song." "The Saga of Jenny" comes from Lady in the Dark, and featured lyrics by the all-American Ira Gershwin, who was--incidentally--the son of immigrants.

Maria Irene Fornes - Born in Cuba, Maria Irene Fornes moved to New York in the 1950s. Her play Fefu and Her Friends has become a modern classic. I've always been a fan of her brutal one-act play The Conduct of Life, and spoke about it when she received the 2015 Edwin Booth Award. Recently, the Signature Theatre produced her short play Drowning, which reimagined a story by Anton Chekhov, but was told from the point of view of aliens from outer space. Fornes wasn't from outer space, but she was once an alien to this country, before become one of America's great playwrights of the 20th century.

Nilo Cruz - Speaking of Cuban-American playwrights, Nilo Cruz, who won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for his drama Anna in the Tropics, was born in Matanzas in Cuba, but immigrated to Miami as a child when his parents fled communism. Cruz's play Sotto Voce tells the story of a woman mourning the failure of both Cuba and the United States to take in Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. As a former refugee himself, Cruz certainly knows the importance of showing compassion to those who arrive on your borders.

Martyna Majok - And who won the most recent Pulitzer Prize for drama? That would be Polish-born playwright Martyna Majok. I haven't seen The Cost of Living, which garnered her the award, but her play Ironbound is wonderful, and deals quite poignantly with coming of age in urban America.

So thank you, immigrants. You make America great!