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America and the Individual: The Hairy Ape and Machinal at the Moscow Kamerny Theatre

  • Dassia N. Posner

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Between 1926 and 1934 the Moscow Kamerny Theatre staged a cycle of six American plays: Eugene O’Neill's The Hairy Ape, Desire under the Elms, and All God's Chillun Got Wings; Sophie Treadwell's Machinal; Rosita, a stage adaptation of a Hollywood film; and John Dos Passos's Fortune Heights. In this article Dassia N. Posner analyzes and contextualizes two of these productions: The Hairy Ape (1926) and Machinal (1933). By the mid-1920s, Kamerny Theatre director Alexander Tairov was under intense pressure to stage work that aligned with the Soviet Union's political goals. A significant portion of the Kamerny's repertoire had long consisted of foreign plays that celebrated the individual's struggle against oppression. The Hairy Ape and Machinal provided Tairov with a unique opportunity to combine artistic, political, and human relevance in a way he had not achieved before, using the artistic language of the theatre's earlier stylistic and acting innovations. Drawing on rich archival sources, Posner illuminates ways in which stylistic juxtaposition allowed these productions to address a specific political context while also reflecting on oppression more broadly as it relates to class, gender, national origin, artistic freedom, and individual thought. Dassia N. Posner is Associate Professor of Theatre and Slavic Languages and Literatures at Northwestern University. Her books include The Director's Prism: E. T. A. Hoffmann and the Russian Theatrical Avant-Garde and The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance.

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