In theatre and drama histories, the politics of the American stage has most often been judged by the litmus test of nationalism, primarily in the “rise” of American-authored drama set in America, the development of American character types, and the appearance of American-born actors on the stages of the early United States. To uncover in the old playbills the mention of a performance of Royall Tyler's The Contrast, to celebrate the development of the stage Yankee, or to focus on Edwin Forrest's muscular rant in The Gladiator is to score a palpable hit for national theatre. Given the scarcity of American texts before the War of 1812, this search for national needles in the (British) theatrical haystack is understandable. But the politics reflected in the theatre in early America is far more complex than traditional theatre histories have acknowledged. Fortunately, there are signs of a new historiography at work. Heather Nathans's recent history of the postrevolutionary playhouses (to 1800) in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, for instance, uncovers a web of economic and social relationships among the shareholders in the various theatres, which shows that simple party definition hardly accounts for a clear sense of who supports the stage and who does not. Examined more closely than as buildings in which to launch “Jonathan,” American theatres reveal their own traditions for handling topical material, a particularly thorny problem for cultural spaces dominated by British plays and actors. In other words, beyond identifying stage Yankees or following Forrest, finding the political in the theatrical may require other strategies of reading in order to determine the full range of interaction between the political and theatrical spheres.