The Past in 20th Century Drama College

George Santayana’ s oft-quoted aphorism—“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”—has entered cultural ubiquity and become a cliché, paraphrased ad nauseam by politicians and philosophically-inclined college students. Still, the over-saturation of this sentiment does not make it any less true, and American playwrights working in the last quarter of the twentieth century seemed to know that. For example, the most representative artistic movement of the era—postmodernism—is characterized by an interest in representing and reinterpreting history on the stage. Unlike the Modernists of the first half of the century, postmodernists did not view their forbears as artists to transcend. Instead, they innovated by broadcasting their influences and interpolating them into new material. These playwrights knew that to adequately comprehend the present—the increasingly complicated contemporary world—they needed a deep understanding of the past. More importantly, they recognized the power of history and memory, acknowledging that nostalgia can quickly spiral into a corrosive delusion and warp one’s view of the present. These characteristics are best exemplified by David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, Tony Kushner’s Angels...

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