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Understanding John Guare

William Demastes



Published: Feb 28 2017


Published: Feb 28 2017

OA Ebook
Published: Feb 28 2017


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

A comprehensive study of an award-winning playwright known for unconventional blending of genres

John Guare, one of the most innovative and influential contemporary American playwrights of the last sixty years, is best known for such works as House of Blue Leaves, winner of an Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play, and four Tony Awards, and Six Degrees of Separation, recipient of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play and the Olivier Best Play Award and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. In Understanding John Guare, William W. Demastes provides a concise biography and analyzes the playwright's career from his earliest works produced off-off Broadway in the 1960s to his most recent Broadway play, A Free Man of Color, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Often compared to his contemporaries Sam Shepard and David Mamet, who have distinctive voices tied to their mastery of realistic, idiomatic American English, Guare has a style that is perhaps more varied, Demastes speculates, the result of his formal training in theater. After earning a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University, Guare earned an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama. He then polished his theater craft in New York City during the exciting and turbulent 1960s, breaking from realist conventions and creating an unlikely blend of comedy, burlesque, stand-up comedy, and absurdly incongruous plotlines. The result has been a theater of surprise that is rich in stage action and experimentally invigorating.

Demastes examines Guare's tools and techniques such as mixing serious with comic, creating characters who break into song and dance, inserting stand-up comedy routines, and drawing from the most absurd incongruities of everyday life. In doing so, Guare has created plays about the best and worst of humanity, about lost souls, and about delusional ideals.

William W. Demastes, an Alumni Professor of English at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, has written extensively on modern drama, including the books Comedy Matters, Staging Consciousness, Theatre of Chaos, and Beyond Naturalism. Demastes is also the author of book-length studies of Tom Stoppard and Spalding Gray, and he currently edits the Best American Short Plays series.

"An exceptionally useful introduction to the challenging work of one of the most important playwrights of the last sixty years by the preeminent scholar of contemporary American drama. This concise book combines the production history of Guare's plays, musicals, and films, a biography of the writer, and instructive analysis of the works, while situating them in their social and historical context."—Christopher J. Wheatley, Catholic University of America

"From The House of Blue Leaves to A Free Man of Color, John Guare has been one of America's most prolific, original, and fearless playwrights. William Demastes's readable, comprehensive, informed, and informative survey of Guare's oeuvre is a treat, serving equally well as reminder of or introduction to the myriad, varied plays emerging from what one critic called 'Guare's exotic yet very American imagination."—Dorothy Chansky, Texas Tech University

"Understanding John Guare offers the student, theatergoer, and interested general reader a thorough and in-depth overview of Guare's long and varied career. William Demastes—a leading authority on American drama perfectly captures Guare's hard-to-label theatrical career. Demastes's expertise and approachable writing style make this the authoritative introduction to John Guare."—Michael Y. Bennett, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater

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