Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Mary Beth Osnes

Second Advisor

Michelle Ellsworth, M.F.A.

Third Advisor

Bud Coleman

Abstract

Four sitting American Presidents have met their end at the hands of an assassin, and many unsuccessful attempts have been made on others. Our continuing fascination with these macabre public events is consistently reflected in contemporary art and popular culture. Arguably, the dramatic lure of presenting events such as assassination revolves around a cultural need to continue reenacting and witnessing these violent moments in our history, juxtaposing our own personal histories with our national histories. My research specifically focuses on plays that depict what I call a re-visioning of presidential assassination. These plays, Wendy MacLeod's The House of Yes (1990), and Suzan-Lori Parks's The America Play (1994) and Topdog/Underdog (2001), revolve around characters who compulsively re-enact, and in doing so re-vision these assassinations, reflecting their own personal struggle. In The House of Yes, the assassination of John F. Kennedy is ritualized as sexual foreplay, while in both The America Play and Topdog/Underdog, the plot involves an African American man who earns a living as an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, specifically in a reenactment of Lincoln's assassination. I posit that in each of these plays the assassination in question is re-visioned as an attempted assassination of a dominant narrative that excludes certain sectors of the American population, specifically women, African Americans, and socio-economically challenged populations. Directly tied to this exploration is an investigation of the failure of the materialization of the American Dream for marginalized populations. This exploration directly focuses on the metatheatricality inherent in the assassination reenactment, including the importance of ritualistic elements. Further, questions of race, class and gender as represented in each play are viewed through the lenses of Marxist theory, feminist theory, and post-colonial and race theory. This exploration is tied to personal trauma as juxtaposed with national tragedy as well as a fundamental question of belonging, providing clear insight into how tragedies such as assassinations of political figures have lasting repercussions that continue to affect the people and dreams of a nation for generations to come.

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