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Memory's Dramas, Modernity's Ghosts: Thornton Wilder, Japanese Theater, and Paula Vogel's The Long Christmas Ride Home


The Long Christmas Ride Home (2003) is American playwright Paula Vogel’s most poetic, conceptual, and formally complex play, and marks a shift in her oeuvre. Its abstract treatment of time and place departs from the historical and social specificity of her other playworlds, and its reverent tone differs from the irreverent humor pervading her previous work. Long Christmas Ride Home rewrites Thornton Wilder’s one-act plays, The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden and The Long Christmas Dinner, while incorporating aspects of Japanese Nō drama and Bunraku puppet theatre, and I read these intertextual engagements alongside Marvin Carlson’s theory of ghosting, Walter Benjamin’s concept of history, and Elin Diamond’s provocative suggestion that we think in terms of “modernity’s drama” rather than “modern drama.” I suggest that Vogel’s use of Japanese theatre techniques defamiliarizes moral responses surrounding AIDS, religion, and family, and her engagement with Wilder revises his belief in progress into what might be interpreted as a kind of nostalgic hope. The complex interconnections among Wilder, Vogel, and Japanese theater encourage a crosscultural, multitemporal investigation of the way modernity’s methods for organizing time are recorded in modernity’s dramas and reproduced as modernity’s ghosts.

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