Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times

Susan Quinn, Author . Walker $25.99 (325p) ISBN 978-0-8027-1698-9

Quinn (Marie Curie ) does a superb job of recounting the rise and fall of the Federal Theatre Project, a wing of FDR's WPA meant to employ playwrights and actors while providing diversion and inspiration for Depression-ravaged Americans. Quinn shows how, under the management of the irrepressible Hallie Flanagan, the left-leaning FTP facilitated such controversial masterpieces as Triple-A Plowed Under and The Cradle Will Rock while unintentionally setting the stage for the House Un-American Activities Committee and much of the red-baiting and blacklisting of the 1940s and '50s. The Daily Worker applauded FTP projects such as a dramatization of Sinclair Lewis's antifascist novel, It Can't Happen Here . Among the actors, directors and writers sponsored by the program were John Houseman, Orson Welles, Will Geer and Meyer Levin. Experimentation thrived: Welles oversaw an all-black production of a “voodoo” version of Macbeth that played Broadway and toured nationwide. All of this Quinn describes eloquently and artfully, summoning a not-so-distant time when a nation bled and great artists rushed as healers into the countryside. B&w photos. (July)

Reviewed on: 04/07/2008
Release date: 07/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-1-59691-140-6
Paperback - 325 pages - 978-0-8027-1758-0
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-8027-7971-7
Show other formats
Discover what to read next