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Kanzer, M. (1956). Freud on Broadway. A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama: By W. David Sievers. New York: Hermitage House, Inc., 1955. 479 PP.. Psychoanal Q., 25:100-101.
(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:100-101
Freud on Broadway. A History of Psychoanalysis and the American Drama: By W. David Sievers. New York: Hermitage House, Inc., 1955. 479 PP.
Review by: Mark Kanzer
Sievers offers the reader a pleasant and informative, although sometimes unreliable, tour of the modern drama. Despite his amateurish equipment, he succeeds to a certain extent in a sincere and enthusiastic endeavor to demonstrate freudian mechanisms at work backstage in the American theater.
Credit for the first consciously freudian drama is given to Arthur Hopkins, whose Fatted Calf appeared in 1912. Just why Hopkins should be so credited is not clear; the play dealt with the hypnotherapy of a girl obsessed by fear of her mother. 'Mother love', it is interesting to note, was already being viewed with scepticism and was described as claiming 'more victims every day than all the pestilences of the earth combined'.
By 1916, the 'little theater movement' was clearly infused with the new psychology (which one discerning critic suspected of being an instrument of pro-German war propaganda). In 1919, Heywood Broun lamented that a drama critic was no longer properly qualified unless he had been initiated into the secrets of Dr. Freud. Another columnist demanded that Freud and the horrors of the unconscious be kept off the stage and confined to the limits of the printed page, 'where they belong'.
Thereafter, according to Sievers, Freud became the tacit collaborator of almost all outstanding American playwrights. Unfortunately for those with a pedantic inclination to insist on the facts, this claim does not seem to be based on adequate evidence.
This book is the outgrowth of a doctor's dissertation at the University of Southern California. Yet the research upon which it is based, in so far as it is disclosed, must be described as inadequate to support the conclusions. Thirty-three American playwrights responded to a questionnaire by Dr. Sievers. We are given, however, no systematic description of the questionnaire or of the responses.
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