Israel Horovitz Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The relish with which Israel Horovitz approaches language has found its way into two novels, Cappella (1973) and Nobody Loves Me (1975), and a book of poetry, Spider Poems and Other Writings (1973). None of these works, however, has approached the effectiveness of his drama. Cappella does show a dramatist’s flair for vivid monologue, but the Samuel Beckett-like stream of consciousness that pervades much of the novel is rather irritating and often impenetrable. Not surprisingly, it is Horovitz’s work in film that comes closest to the level of his stage works. His first produced film script, The Strawberry Statement (1970), based on the book by James Simon Kunen, conveyed the atmosphere of the Columbia University student riots in the late 1960’s with shrewd social and psychological observations. His next major screenplay was the frankly autobiographical Author! Author! (1982), one of his most humane and least ironic works. It depicts the problems of a playwright whose second wife leaves him for another man and who must then deal with five children as well as the preparation for his first Broadway play, entitled The Reason We Eat (one of Horovitz’s own, lesser-known plays). Ivan Travalian’s life and work mirror Horovitz’s quite closely, but Horovitz can view his own experience with much humor, giving some satiric insights into theater production. The screenplay is filled as well with a great deal of warmth and love between Ivan and the five children (four of whom are not even biologically his). Horovitz has also written a number of plays for television, sometimes with a social message (VD Blues, concerning venereal disease, in 1972; Play for Trees, on the importance of saving trees, in 1969). His television adaptation of Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (1977) effectively captured the gloom and poignancy of the original. In 1978, Horovitz wrote a cycle of plays for television called Growing Up Jewish in Sault Ste. Marie, adaptations of Morley Torgov’s novel A Nice Place to Come From. Also, Horovitz has contributed to a number of periodicals, most notably as a lively, refreshing, and personal art critic for Crafts Horizons from 1968 to 1970.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Israel Horovitz early staked out his claim to a share in the Samuel Beckett-Eugène Ionesco tradition of modern absurdity. He dramatizes the alienation of characters trapped in their own realities, often at cross-purposes, unable to communicate. Horovitz examines the violent roots of much human interaction. In his plays, submerged fears and hostilities rise to the surface and take concrete shape in often senseless acts of aggression.

Horovitz is a master of modern metropolitan malaise, yet he has also exposed the decay at work in small-town New England, setting most of his later plays either in Wakefield or Gloucester, Massachusetts. A native of Wakefield, Horovitz has returned to it in a series of plays, linked by related characters, similar themes and moods, and even repeated lines. Through these Wakefield plays, he portrays the constriction, pettiness, and desperation of life in a small town, where people are trapped for generations and where those who have escaped return only to be caught up in the same power struggles.

Horovitz’s stark view of contemporary human relationships assures him a significant position in the history of Off-Broadway, a theater tradition given to intense engagement of the audience in ways diverging from the more familiar and comfortable realistic tradition of Broadway (and London’s West End). Although, as a consequence, most of his plays have gone unreviewed by the national press, his work has been translated into more than twenty languages, and theaters across the United States and around the world are continually performing his plays. His keen vision earned for him Obie Awards for both The Indian Wants the Bronx and The Honest-to-God Schnozzola, both of which have also been otherwise honored, while awards have also gone to Line, Rats, and It’s Called the Sugar Plum. As one...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Berkrot, Peter. “Israel Horovitz.” American Theatre, October, 1992, 39-40, 98-99. A first major attempt by this esteemed journal to locate Horovitz’s place in American theater.

Cohn, Ruby. New American Dramatists: 1960-1990. 1982. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. In this update of the 1982 edition, Cohn places Horovitz with Jack Gelber, Jean-Claude van Itallie, Megan Terry, and Maria Irene Fornes as “actor-activated” playwrights because Horovitz was active in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) and because, working closely with actors, he often wrote plays that became vehicles for the actors’ rise to stardom.

DiGaetani, John L. A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights. New York: Greenwood, 1991. Horovitz speaks affectionately of his theater, the Gloucester Stage Company. With prompting, he runs through his repertory, citing his favorite plays and summarizing the themes. Year of the Duck, which “got almost no notice in New York,” dramatizes some of his own theaiter experiences in the guise of a rehearsal of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck (pr., pb. 1884).

Evory, Ann, ed. Contemporary Authors: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Current Authors and Their Works. Detroit: Gale, 1978. Solid, but dated; of particular use to anyone most interested in Horovitz’s earliest work.

Haedicke, Susan C. “Doing the Dirty Work: Gendered Versions of Working Class Women in Sarah Daniels’ The Gut Girls and Israel Horovitz’s North Shore Fish.” Journal of Dramatic...

(The entire section is 712 words.)