Tragedy in the Age of Oprah: Essays on Five Great Plays

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9780810885080: Tragedy in the Age of Oprah: Essays on Five Great Plays
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In an era of Twitter and televised therapy, it may seem that classic theatre has little place in contemporary society. Accustomed to the indulgences of a celebrity-driven culture, how can modern audiences understand and interpret classic works of drama?

In Tragedy in the Age of Oprah: Essays on Five Great Plays, Louis Fantasia provides a provocative examination of the relationship between popular culture and classical tragedy. Making a persuasive argument for the lessons tragedy has to offer today’s audiences, Fantasia examines five enduring works of theatre: Euripides’ Medea, William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Jean Racine’s Phèdre, Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart, and Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Fantasia discusses in detail each of these plays, framing them in a contemporary context that explores the suffering, responsibility, and identity that tragedy advocates.

Each play is presented as an engaging, powerful encounter for the reader, recreating as closely as possible the impact of a great performance. A unique look at the role classical theatre can and should play in contemporary society, these essays reveal the lessons great plays have to teach us about ourselves. Directed toward theatre professionals and students, Tragedy in the Age of Oprah will also resonate with anyone interested in theatre, literature, and cultural studies.

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About the Author:

Louis Fantasia has produced and directed more than 150 plays and operas worldwide. Director of the Shakespeare Globe Centre's Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance Institute from 1997 to 2002, Louis is currently director of Shakespeare at the Huntington, the teacher-training institute of the Huntington Library, Art Galleries and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California and Chair of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the New York Film Academy. He is the author of Instant Shakespeare (Ivan R. Dee, 2003).

Review:

Challenging the thesis that tragedy no longer speaks to the contemporary world, Fantasia (director, Shakespeare at the Huntington) studies five tragedies, demonstrating the reasons behind that thesis while arguing the flaws inherent in its claim. The five plays, embedded in provocative chapter titles, are "Medea Lives in Texas," "King Lear or Survivor?," "Prozac for Phèdre," "Mary Stuart, Passion's Martyr," and "Long Day's Journey into Night: The Rise and Fall of the American Dream." Focusing on the human emotion of "shame," Fantasia notes in his introduction that "shame is anathema in the Age of Oprah," given the contemporary penchant to outsource blame, talk through humiliations, and seek all-too-readily-available forgiveness, no matter how grievous the transgression. Tragedy remains necessary today because it puts one in touch with "demonic" sources of shame, "that pure consciousness that is in direct contact with the very core of our being." That argument is not new but deserves Fantasia's reinforcement. He does service to the case by connecting these tragedies to hot spots of the contemporary imagination (e.g., Mary Stuart and Princess Diana) and demonstrating hunger for more than analyses by Dr. Phil. The play evaluations are solid, with the King Lear chapter benefiting well from Fantasia's theatrical background. Summing Up: Recommended. (CHOICE)

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