A Poets’ Theater
From Prometheus in Granada to Lorca in a Green Dress
A remarkable lyric poet, Federico García Lorca also happens to be the best-known Spanish playwright after Calderón de la Barca. Only a handful of European playwrights of the twentieth century—Brecht, Beckett, Pirandello—have a firmer place in the canon. It would seem, however, that Lorca’s poetry has been far more influential than his drama in the US. American poets from Langston Hughes to Larry Sawyer have brought enormous creative energy to Lorca’s work in their translations, adaptations, and apocrypha. A whole school of poetry, identified with the concept of the “deep image,” was directly inspiried by Lorca, and the duende has become a cliché of creative writing 101. In research for Apocryphal Lorca, however, I did not find a parallel effort among dramatists: Lorca’s influence on the American theater seemed far more dispersed, ephemeral, and fragmentary.
Although the modes of cultural transmission for Lorca’s poetics of the theater may be more difficult to define, my subsequent research suggests that his influence on the American stage has been both profound and pervasive. My surprising conclusion, though, is that Lorca influences American playwrights as much through his lyric poetry as through his dramaturgy. Playwrights from Tennessee Williams to Adrienne Kennedy took inspiration from his poeic theater, but it is Lorca the poet who emerges most often on the American stage.
A detailed account of the translation of Lorca’s plays into English, and of the production of Lorca plays on the American stage, are necessary projects, but my chief interest here is in the creative re-visioning of Lorca by American playwrights and directors. This article will consider an examplary performance of Lorca’s Don Perlimplín on the New York stage in the nineteen fifties, the influence of Lorquian dramaturgy on playwrights from Tennessee Williams to Adrienne Kennedy and Sam Shepard, and the more direct presentation of the figure of Lorca himself in a wide variety of plays, including Edward Albee’s The Lorca Play, Nilo Cruz’s Lorca in a Green Dress, and Sam Creely’s Barbarous Nights.