Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
David Rabe was born on March 10, 1940, in Dubuque, Iowa, where he attended Roman Catholic parochial schools. He began to write short stories and plays while an undergraduate at Loras College, a Catholic institution in Dubuque, from which he was graduated in 1962 with a B.A. in English. He was drafted into the army in 1965 and served with a hospital support unit at Long Binh, South Vietnam. Although he did not go into actual combat himself, he observed many casualties. After his discharge in early 1967, he resumed his interrupted graduate studies at Villanova University and earned a master’s degree in 1968. While at Villanova, he wrote the draft scripts of The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Sticks and Bones, inspired by his experiences of Vietnam and then of the United States as encountered by a returned Vietnam veteran. Under the auspices of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel opened in New York at the Public Theatre on May 20, 1971, with Sticks and Bones following, also at the Public Theatre, on November 7 of the same year. With these productions, Rabe was saluted by many critics as a most promising young dramatist.
Rabe’s third play, The Orphan, a puzzling retelling of the dramas of Aeschylus that made repeated allusions to Vietnam, was roundly criticized. With his fourth play, In the Boom Boom Room (originally produced in 1973 as Boom Boom Room and later revised and retitled), Rabe...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
David Rabe (rayb) is one of America’s most uncompromising dramatic commentators on the Vietnam War. The three major Rabe plays, sometimes referred to as “the Vietnam trilogy” (Sticks and Bones, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, and Streamers), are intense, compelling analyses of a society forever altered by a controversial war, of a generation that lost its innocence in battle.
David William Rabe was born in Dubuque, Iowa, on March 10, 1940, to William Rabe, a high school teacher who later became a meat packer, and his wife, Ruth McCormick Rabe, a department store employee. Educated at two Catholic schools in Dubuque—Loras Academy and Loras College, where he earned his B.A. degree in English in 1962—Rabe went on to graduate school at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, where he began work on a degree in theater. Two years in the U.S. Army, which included eleven months in Vietnam, interrupted Rabe’s graduate work; he resumed his studies upon his return from Vietnam, completing his master’s degree in 1968. The next year he married Elizabeth Pan. That marriage ended in divorce, and in 1979 Rabe married actress Jill Clayburgh.
Rabe’s tour of duty in Vietnam proved to be a major turning point in the future playwright’s life. Assigned to a hospital group, Rabe never actually experienced combat, although he witnessed the fighting at close range and observed the American troops both in and out of combat. It was the extreme youth and inexperience of these soldiers that made an impression on Rabe, who later described them as like kids “standing around some bar like teenagers at a soda fountain, talking coolly about how many of their guys got killed in the last battle.” Rabe’s first two plays were the result of his frustrating return to society after Vietnam. Both were written while he was in graduate school but not produced until they came to the attention of the influential Joseph Papp, director of the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre.
The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, which opened on May 21, 1971, ran for 363 performances at the Newman Theatre in 1971 and 1972 and earned for Rabe an Obie Award and a Drama Desk Award. Sticks and Bones was even more critically successful than The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, winning for Rabe the 1972 Tony Award, the Outer Circle Award, and a special...
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IntroductionDavid Rabe was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 and spent two years in the service, the last year of which he fought in Vietnam. That experience is the basis for most of his plays. After completing his tour of duty, Rabe resumed his studies at Villanova, where he had been doing graduate work before being drafted. During this period, he wrote his first play, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel, which is considered one of the first important works of literature to treat the Vietnam War. His subsequent plays—Sticks and Bones (about a family dealing with their newly blinded son’s return from Vietnam) and Streamers—were also based on his war experiences. Highly charged language and the depiction of intense violence characterize his work.
- Rabe’s writing is not exclusively about war. He also focuses on the themes of family life, religion, media, and sexuality.
- Rabe has been married to actress Jill Clayburgh for 28 years. Their daughter Lily Rabe is also an actress.
- Rabe wrote the lyrics for the song “Baby When I Find You,” which was featured in his play Sticks and Bones.
- In a departure from his usual work, Rabe’s play A Question of Mercy was inspired by an article by Dr. Richard Selzer about helping an AIDS patient commit suicide.
- Rabe wrote the screenplay Casualties of War.
David William Rabe was born on March 10, 1940, in Dubuque, Iowa, son to William and Ruth McCormick Rabe. His father was a high-school teacher who eventually left teaching to take a job at a meatpacking plant shipping dock, while his mother contributed to the family income by working in a department store. Through their efforts, David was able to attend two Catholic schools in his home town, Loras Academy and Loras College, where, in 1962, he earned a B.A. degree in English.
graduating from college, Rabe found odd jobs, briefly working as an egg carrier, bellhop, parking-lot attendant, and substitute teacher, but he soon started work on a graduate degree in theater at Villanova University. He dropped out of the program before completing his degree, however, and, in 1965, was drafted into the Army. He spent the next year on a tour of duty in Vietnam, which profoundly affected his subsequent career as a writer. Although he was assigned to a hospital group and was not directly engaged in combat, he was greatly disturbed by the sacrifice of young Americans in what increasingly seemed to be a pointless war.
After returning to the United States, he reentered Villanova and finished his M.A. degree in theater in 1968. He then started writing about his Vietnam experiences and began working as a journalist, serving as a feature writer for the New Haven Register in New Haven, Connecticut. After marrying Elizabeth Pan in 1969, he returned to Villanova University as an assistant professor and playwright in residence. His marriage soon failed, and he did not marry again until 1979, when he wed actress Jill Clayburgh.
In 1971, Rabe gained his commercial success as dramatist when his play The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel was staged by influential producer Joe Papp on Broadway at the Newman Theatre. Although it was Rabe’s first New York-produced play in his often dubbed ‘‘Vietnam Trilogy,’’ it was the last written. Sticks and Bones, which opened in New York later in the same year, had been written and published two years earlier, and Streamers, produced in 1976, had begun as a one-act play with the title ‘‘Frankie,’’ a work in progress before the playwright even began writing The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel.
Although Rabe has repeatedly disclaimed being an antiwar playwright, throughout his career he has consistently been viewed as an uncompromising, angry, and trenchant critic of misguided or errant public policy shaped in the Vietnam War era. In other major works, including The Orphan (1973), In the Boom Boom Room, (1974, a revision of the earlier Boom Boom Room), Hurlyburly (1984), and A Question of Mercy (1998), Rabe deals with the deterioration of values both during that War and in its aftermath.
Rabe’s drama is noteworthy for its intensity. In his plays, the vulgar and obscene become lyrical, as they do in much of the work of Chicago playwright David Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross). Bordering on the surreal at times, Rabe’s work is also rich in symbol and nightmarish violence, and it is also distinctive for accurate rendering of the distinct voices of its diverse characters, which is one of the most significant features of a play like Streamers, and for its experimentation with structure and technique. He is a highly regarded dramatist as well as a writer of screenplays and fiction. Although written early in his career, Streamers is still singled out as the most polished piece in the playwright’s Vietnam War trilogy if not the most accomplished work Rabe has written for the live stage.