Method Acting and Its Discontents: On American Psycho-Drama
Northwestern University Press, 2015
Winner of the 2016 George Jean Nathan Award
Method Acting and Its Discontents: On American Psycho-Drama provides a new understanding of a crucial chapter in American theater history. Enelow’s consideration of the broader cultural climate of the late 1950s and early 1960s, specifically the debates within psychology and psychoanalysis, the period’s racial and sexual politics, and the rise of mass media, gives us a nuanced, complex picture of Lee Strasberg and the Actors Studio and contemporaneous works of drama. Combining cultural analysis, dramaturgical criticism, and performance theory, Enelow shows how Method acting’s contradictions reveal powerful tensions inside mid-century notions of individual and collective identity.
“Like a good acting class with a gifted teacher, Method Acting and Its Discontents is filled with mental and emotional surprises. Widely referenced in American popular culture, the Method is rarely cited evenhandedly. But like that acting teacher we were lucky to get or wish we had, Shonni Enelow confronts us with the unexplored subtexts. She gets at them by casting odd-couple partners in unexpected scenes: Tennessee Williams and Jean Genet, Jean-Martin Charcot and Marilyn Monroe, Lee Strasberg and almost everyone else, but especially James Baldwin. Like the best scene work, the results disclose much that we didn’t previously know, not only about the scripts, but also about ourselves.” —Joseph Roach, Yale University
“A fascinating account of the psychological and psychoanalytical ideologies which were manifested in Strasberg’s Method acting approach in the late 1950s and early ’60s. Shonni Enelow’s painstaking cultural study positions the contradictions of Strasberg’s method within a set of fraught cultural anxieties that permeate post–Second World War multicultural America and the ways in which Method acting was in conflict with new feminist and postcolonial discourses. Method Acting and Its Discontents provides the broader historical contextualizations and complexities at play in Strasberg’s creation of a highly marketable but problematic set of ideas and asks all the nagging questions at which others have balked. This is essential reading for all theater scholars.” —Mary Luckhurst, University of Melbourne
"Enelow offers a forceful and timely rethinking of the American theater’s dominant acting theory. In chapters ranging across Broadway and Off Broadway plays, Hollywood and experimental films, and classroom sessions at the Actors Studio, she probes the Method’s assumptions, identifies its blindspots, and tests it against the tumultuous politics of the 1950s and 1960s.” —The George Jean Nathan Award Committee