twenty plays, forty-three fables
Paperback, 6.25" x 9.25" x 2", 766 Pages
Release Date January 2nd, 2024
This 766 page volume contains the final versions of Oscar Mandel's twenty plays produced and published over a period of sixty years, collected by Insert Press between the covers of the author's Complete Theatre, along with the forty-three mini-dramas of his much-loved Kukkurrik Fables. Powerful on stage, they are even more compelling for the reader, who can pause, reflect and re-read them.
The plays are presented in clusters. The first cluster contains plays set in modern times; the second cluster consists of plays with highly varied historical backgrounds; the third features recreations of stories from Greek mythology; deeply original retellings of Old and New Testament tales make up the fourth cluster; in the fifth will be found comedies set in backgrounds of pure fantasy. The sixth and final cluster consists of the little fables, each one presided over by a dramatic Narrator. Readers familiar with Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth will recognize that all the plays, including those set in modern times, are "members" of the same tradition that Wilder illustrated, one that Oscar Mandel has called, in one of his essays, the high imagination.
With titles like The Fatal French Dentist, Prince Poupon Needs a Wife, Honest Urubamba and the like, it's easy to guess that Oscar Mandel's plays, some droll, some tragic, some best described as grand in conception, are without exception works of the high imagination. This is true even for those which are set in the here-and-now, as even a title like Living-Room With 6 Oppressions intimates. In the others, readers and audiences are transported to Nantucket in 1776, to historic Poland, to Ancient Greece, to the Jerusalem of the Crucifixion, To Bolivia, even to the Garden of Eden! But there's nothing ancient or outdated about the ideas Oscar Mandel conveys in his plays, whatever their settings, nor in his merry-grim fables-like the one about the tiger who tried to be humane and was shot all the same. His plays and fables speak powerfully one and all to the perennial issues that interest and all to often bedevil mankind.
Oscar Mandel was born in Antwerp in 1926 of German-speaking parents who had left Austro-Hungarian Poland after World War I to settle in Belgium. There Mandel joined his father and brothers in the diamond craft and trade. German was thus the author's first language. French and Flemish followed. The family escaped from the Nazis in 1940 and from that time lived in New York, where his father continued to deal in diamonds, and where Mandel was still young enough to make English his principal language. From high school in Forest Hills, Mandel went on to New York University, Columbia, and Ohio State University. His thesis at OSU, A Definition of Tragedy, published by the New York University Press in 1961, initiated a life-long career, much of it spent as professor of literature at the California Institute of Technology. Mandel managed to divide his creative hours between off-the-beaten-path works of scholarship and a stream of widely applauded plays, poems, fables and essays. He has also translated a number of his works in French and published them in Paris.
Drama has not been Oscar Mandel's only literary occupation. Like a musician who plays several instruments, he has "performed" in poetry, fiction, essays, memoirs, translations and (as professor of literature at the California Institute of Technology for over half a century) scholarship and literary criticism. It was as early as the year 1955 that a poem of his appeared in print, namely in the Georgia Review. In 1957 the South Atlantic Quarterly published his first essay. In 1961, the year The Massachusetts Review printed the tragedy called Island then and The Summoning of Philoctetes in the present Complete Theatre, Harper's Bazaar brought out an extract from Mandel's tale, Chi Po and the Sorcerer, which was to appear as a beautifully illustrated book three years later with the subtitle A Chinese Tale for Children and Philosophers. Altogether, almost 250 books, essays, articles and productions have seen life from these beginnings to the present time, and today, in his mid-nineties, Mandel remains fully active. Readers of the present volume will want to leaf through his Otherwise Fables (2014), Otherwise Poems (2015) and the miscellany of poetry, drama, story and essays he called Last Pages (2019) in a burst of unwarranted pessimism.