Staging France between the World Wars

Performance, Politics, and the Transformation of the Theatrical Canon

By (author) Susan McCready

Publication date:

21 September 2016

Length of book:

176 pages


Lexington Books

ISBN-13: 9781498522786

Staging Francebetween the World Wars aims to establish the nature and significance of the modernist transformation of French theater between the World Wars, and to elucidate the relationship between aesthetics and the cultural, economic, and political context of the period. Over the course of the 1920s and 30s, as the modernist directors elaborated a theatrical tradition redefined along new lines: more abstract, more fluid, and more open to interpretation, their work was often contested, especially when they addressed the classics of the French theatrical repertory. This study consists largely of the analysis of productions of classic plays staged during the interwar years, and focuses on the contributions of Jacques Copeau and the Cartel because of their prominence in the modernist movement and their outspoken promotion of the role of the theatrical director in general. Copeau and the Cartel began on the margins of theatrical activity, but over the course of the interwar period, their movement gained mainstream acceptance and official status within the theater world. Tracing their trajectory from fringe to center, from underdogs to elder statesmen, this study illuminates both the evolution of the modernist aesthetic and the rise of the metteur-en-scène, whose influence would reshape the French theatrical canon.
Clearly conveying the basics of French theater’s important interwar era, McCready (French, Univ. of Alabama; codirector, Center for the Study of War and Memory) offers insights that are original and impressive. She assesses the influence of Jacques Copeau and the so-called cartel directors (Charles Dullin, Louis Jouvet, Baston Baty, Georges Pitoëff) in terms of their modernist staging innovations applied to the “classics” of the drama (a canon they actually expanded) in counterpoint to the Comédie-Française’s productions as bastion of tradition. McCready’s marshaling of archival materials combined with her own thoughtful analysis shows how these independent directors of the 1920s–30s redefined “tradition”—ignoring stale conventions, returning to populist roots—in a process that also led audiences to embrace the modernist aesthetic. In chapters on productions of Molière’s plays, on the Racine/Shakespeare dichotomy, and on Alfred de Musset’s elevation to preeminence among the Romantics, McCready anchors her premise that classic plays served as vehicles for validating the director’s authority to interpret texts through performance elements beyond the verbal.... McCready authoritatively blends theater history, politics, and dramatic literature. Lucidly written and cogently argued, the book includes extensive notes as well as the standard apparatus. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals.