Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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T H E J E W I N R E C E N T
A M E R I C A N D R A M A :
A Q U E S T I O N OF R E C O G N I T I O N
B
y
S
id n e y
L.
B
erger
I
n t h e l a s t s e v e r a l d e cad e s
American drama has witnessed a
resurgence of works dealing with the Jew either explicitly or
by cogent reference. Most of the material has emanated from
younger Jewish novelists, short story writers, and playwrights, each
in his own manner seeking to relate his world to his identity as
a Jew. Perhaps the major catalyst has been the relaxation of the
deep-rooted bonds of ethnic identity which previously provided
security against the storms of a basically alien world, resulting in
a freedom inordinately difficult to contend with. It is this idea
which has invigorated the latest works of Arthur Miller and the
writings of Roth, Bellow, Friedman and others.
A second major thrust rapidly becoming evident is the increasing
prominence of Negro playwrights whose works often utilize Jews
as characters or refer to them in various contexts while devoting
their major attention to problems of racial identity and turmoil.
The purpose of this brief commentary will be to examine
selected works recently produced which exemplify the ideas pre-
viously mentioned.
After the Fall
opened the Lincoln Center Repertory Theatre in
1964 and was Arthur Miller’s first work for the theatre after a
lengthy hiatus. The play deals with a man’s trial by total selfr
examination and, to a certain extent, self-castigation. In reassess-
ing his life, Quentin, its central character, drags up the stuff of his
experience: his past, his identity as a Jew, and tries them before
his conscience, fearfully, but with pity “as to an . . . idiot in the
house.” Basically, the issue of the play concerns the killer present
in each of us. At its microcosmic level, Quentin accuses himself
of complicity in the murder of Maggie but the issue broadens to
incorporate the death of millions and the potential of every indi-
vidual to harbor within him the Jew and the Nazi—the victim
and the persecutor. It is particularly intriguing that both Miller
and playwright Peter Weiss attended the Auschwitz trials. As a
result, Weiss wrote
The Investigation,
nakedly relating the horror
of the extermination process in documentary detail. Miller’s play
was to be vastly different: “The question in the Frankfurt court-
room spreads out beyond the defendants and spirals around the
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