Arnold Wesker RIP

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John F
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Arnold Wesker RIP

Post by John F » Thu Apr 14, 2016 3:02 am

Arnold Wesker is the English playwright whose naturalistic dramas about working-class life were a major force in 1950s and 1960s theatre. He and others of the kind were often referred to as the kitchen sink school, particularly apt for Wesker who worked in kitchens in his early life and whose best plays include "The Kitchen," "Chicken Soup with Barley," and "Chips with Everything." But the Times obituary tells it all well.

Arnold Wesker, Who Wrote British Dramas of the Working Class, Dies at 83
APRIL 13, 2016

LONDON — Arnold Wesker, a British playwright who came to prominence in the 1950s with stark dramas about working-class life, many of them influenced by his childhood in a leftist Jewish family in East London, died on Tuesday in Brighton, England. He was 83. His son Lindsay confirmed the death, at a hospital. Mr. Wesker had Parkinson’s disease.

He was catapulted to critical attention when, still in his 20s, he wrote a trilogy of plays drawing on his upbringing among working-class British Jews with socialist politics: “Chicken Soup With Barley” (1956), “Roots” (1958) and “I’m Talking About Jerusalem” (1960). “Although Mr. Wesker belongs to what has been called Britain’s angry young men, he does not rage in disgust,” Harold Taubman wrote in The New York Times in 1961 in a review of the New York premiere of “Roots,” in which the Jewish protagonist lands in a hardscrabble farming community in Norfolk, England. “In ‘Roots,’ he seeks to tell the truth, to laugh at it understandingly, if harshly, and to imply a vision and a hope.”

The term “angry young men” was applied to a generation of British and Irish writers from working- or middle-class backgrounds, though it was not a label Mr. Wesker embraced. John Osborne, Kingsley Amis, John Arden, John Braine, Keith Waterhouse, Brendan Behan and Harold Pinter were among the others. “Wesker’s emergence was due in part to the radical temper of the postwar British theater,” Alfred Kazin wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1975, “but above all to the fact that he handled abrasive subjects — Jewish Communists, high-pitched emotions inside the Jewish family — with a notable lovingness, tact and respect for the working-class mores in general.”

Mr. Wesker wrote more than 40 plays. Among those that opened in New York, sometimes years after their British premieres, were “Chips With Everything” (originally produced in 1962), about Royal Air Force cadet training, a work that drew on his own experience in the R.A.F.; “The Kitchen” (1957), his first play, which features an exceptionally large cast of 29; “The Four Seasons” (1965), a symbolic drama involving a man and a woman in their 30s who have experienced love and rejection; “The Old Ones” (1970), about three aging siblings, originally set in East London but moved, for an American audience in 1974, to the Lower East Side of Manhattan; “The Merchant” (1976), a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Shylock; “Annie Wobbler” (1982), a trio of one-act plays about women and the English social structure; and two one-act dramas, “Yard Sale” (1982) and “Whatever Happened to Betty Lemon?” (1986).

Mr. Wesker fell out of fashion for a time, but in recent years he saw many of his works revived — a reflection, perhaps, of anxious and angry times. “His working-class characters and his outsider status changed who theater was for, and enabled a new generation of audience, actors and playwrights to feel they had a right to belong,” Vicky Featherstone, the artistic director at the Royal Court Theater, which has staged a number of his plays, said on Wednesday.

Mr. Wesker was also an accomplished author and fiction writer, publishing four collections of short stories. His 1999 book “The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel” chronicled the mishaps that followed his effort to reimagine Shylock, the Jewish villain of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice,” after watching a performance by Laurence Olivier in 1973. Mostel was cast in the title role for a Broadway production of Mr. Wesker’s play, but proved difficult during rehearsals, and he died shortly after the first preview, in Philadelphia.

Mr. Wesker was a steadfast defender of free speech. In 2004, when performances of a play by a British Sikh writer were canceled because of violent protests, he argued that offending others was “an inescapable hazard of living and must be considered a sign of intellect and emotional maturity when accepted.”

Born on May 24, 1932, Mr. Wesker grew up in East London and never attended college. As he built his writing career he took a variety of jobs, including bookseller’s assistant, farm laborer, kitchen porter and pastry chef, which inspired his first play, “The Kitchen” (1957). He served in the Royal Air Force from 1950 to 1952.

Mr. Wesker is survived by his wife, Doreen, known as Dusty; their sons, Lindsay and Daniel; and a daughter, Elsa Hastad, from another relationship. Another daughter, Tanya Wesker, died in 2012.

Mr. Wesker was knighted in 2006 for his contributions to the theater.

In an Op-Ed essay he wrote for The New York Times in 1970, he described his “love-hate relationship” with the United States. “The society depresses me, its sons fill me with admiration,” he wrote. “I don’t know how to look straight at the country.” Describing the reception of his work by American audiences, Mr. Wesker wrote, “I want an audience to suspend its own prejudiced intelligence in order to concentrate solely on what I am trying to communicate.” He added, “Therein lies the true democratic nature of art, and, also, in the fact that a single creative work is one man’s act of reverence for all men.” ... at-83.html
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Re: Arnold Wesker RIP

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Apr 19, 2016 6:18 pm

I am glad that you had the opportunity to appreciate his plays. I must admit that unfortunately I have never heard of him.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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