Review by Choice Review
Bordman has done it again with this first volume in a projected three-volume history of American theater (excluding musical theater, which is covered in his American Musical Theatre, CH, Mar'79). Bordman's clear narrative style provides informed personal insights as well as facts for each New York theater season from Reconstruction through the beginning of WW I. He places each season in historical and cultural context, and then describes plays chronologically by opening date. Theaters, plot summaries, critical reactions, major characters, and cast members are included for each play. An appendix gives addresses and histories of each theater, and there are indexes for all titles and people mentioned. Although Bordman does not include run dates, full cast listings, or touring show information, this well-written volume will serve students of American theater for years to come and is essential for all libraries collecting in this area. In light of its cost, however, smaller and general collections need to consider whether or not this is a necessary purchase to supplement Bordman's more general Oxford Companion to American Theatre (CH, Feb'85). M. O'Hara; Saint John's University & College of Saint Benedict
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review
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. (Reviewed Apr 15, 1994)
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.