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Documentary Trial Plays in Contemporary American Theater

Documentary Trial Plays in Contemporary American Theater

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Jacqueline O’Connor


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
248 pages, 6 x 9

Theater in the Americas


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About the Book

From the Chicago Conspiracy Trial and the O. J. Simpson trial to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill congressional hearings, legal and legislative proceedings in the latter part of the twentieth-century kept Americans spellbound. Situated on the shifting border between imagination and the law, trial plays edit, arrange, and reproduce court records, media coverage, and first-person interviews, transforming these elements into a performance. In this first book-length critical study of contemporary American documentary theater, Jacqueline O’Connor examines in depth ten such plays, all written and staged since 1970, and considers the role of the genre in re-creating and revising narratives of significant conflicts in contemporary history.

Documentary theater, she shows, is a particularly appropriate and widely utilized  theatrical form for engaging in debate about tensions between civil rights  and institutional power, the inconsistency of justice, and challenges to gender norms. For each of the plays discussed, including The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Unquestioned Integrity: The Hill/Thomas Hearings, and The Laramie Project, O'Connor provides historical context and a brief production history before considering the trial the play focuses on. Grouping plays historically and thematically, she demonstrates how dramatic representation advances our understanding of the law's power while revealing the complexities that hinder society's pursuit of justice. 


Jacqueline O’Connor is a professor of English at Boise State University and the author of Dramatizing Dementia: Madness in the Plays of Tennessee Williams


“Jacqueline O’Connor’s thoroughly engaging Documentary Trial Plays in Contemporary American Theater is a rich resource for any student of the modern American theater tradition. Even as we gain insight into American theater as an art form, O’Connor implicitly asks us to assess theater’s role in matters as important as civil order, execution of justice, and the stability—even the identity—of the body politic we call America.”—William W. Demastes, Louisiana State University

“This thoughtful work is an important addition to the growing body of criticism on documentary theater. Equally authoritative on what can be learned about the law from theatrical trials and what can be learned about theatrical truth from staging it on the plane of history, Documentary Trial Plays skillfully confronts the intriguing paradoxes of its subject: more than art or less than art, factual yet fictionally constructed, reportorial and passionately engaged, traumatic and resolute.”—Attilio Favorini, author of Memory in Play from Aeschylus to Sam Shepard and The Gammage Project