American Work Ideals and the Comic Plays of the Federal Theatre ProjectPaul Gagliardi
Many of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP) plays Paul Gagliardi analyzes in All Play and No Work feature complex portrayals of labor and work relief at a time when access to work was difficult. Gagliardi asks, what does it mean that many plays produced by the FTP celebrated forms of labor like speculation and swindling?
All Play and No Work directly contradicts the promoted ideals of work found in American society, culture, and within the broader New Deal itself. Gagliardi shows how comedies of the Great Depression engaged questions of labor, labor history, and labor ethics. He considers the breadth of the FTP’s production history, staging plays including Ah, Wilderness!, Help Yourself, and Mississippi Rainbow.
Gagliardi examines backstage comedies, middle-class comedies, comedies of chance, and con-artist comedies that employed diverse casts and crew and contained radical economic and labor ideas. He contextualizes these plays within the ideologically complicated New Deal, showing how programs like the Social Security Act straddled progressive ideals and conservative, capitalist norms. Addressing topics including the politicization of theatrical labor and the real dangers of unchecked economic con artists, the comic plays of the FTP reveal acts of political resistance and inequality that reflected the concerns of their audiences.
“Drawing connections among American work culture, theater, and
history, Paul Gagliardi’s valuable contribution to studies of the Federal Theatre Project focuses on little-studied performances centered on labor. All Play and No Work illuminates federal theatrical contributions to Depression-era American work life and representation, thus highlighting the importance of Federal Theatre’s brief and significant American cultural moment.”
—Leslie Frost, Teaching Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and author of Dreaming America: Popular Front Ideals and Aesthetics in Children’s Plays of the Federal Theatre Project
“All Play and No Work is an essential study of the Federal Theatre
Project, focusing on its long-neglected comedies. Paul Gagliardi
demonstrates that comedic productions, from Eugene O’Neill’s Ah,
Wilderness! to popular con-artist comedies, were far from being merely light entertainment. Instead, these comedies reveal New Deal-era concerns surrounding the nature of labor and work. Combining cultural history, insightful textual analysis, and production histories, Gagliardi’s interdisciplinary approach contextualizes Federal Theatre Project comedies while bringing them to life in this indispensable book.”
—Julie Burrell, Associate Professor of English, Africana Studies, and Women’s and Gender Studies, Cleveland State University, and author of The Civil Rights Theatre Movement in New York, 1939–1966: Staging Freedom