Despite his popularity in the theaters of Europe and New York from 1900 to 1920 and the firm position of respect accorded his playwriting by theatrical and academic writers throughout the twentieth century, Roberto Bracco has not become an important influence on modern drama. Most critics, however, acknowledge the craftsmanship, psychological insight, and human sympathy found in his drama, calling for study or production of Bracco’s plays based on their own merit rather than as historical curiosities or their use of the ideas of Henrik Ibsen, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Sigmund Freud.
Two reasons for Bracco’s lack of influence are historical: the Fascists’ coming to power in 1922 and the greatly changed attitudes toward theater and literature after World War I, which saw the rise of Luigi Pirandello as a force in Italian drama. As a deputy with decidedly liberal views in the Italian Parliament, Bracco’s political and literary career was cut short by the ascendancy of the Fascists. Under Benito Mussolini, censorship was imposed, fines enforced, and prison sentences issued to offending writers. The political subjects and social issues that Bracco treated were taboo. Commenting on the American premiere of Bracco’s most famous play, The Little Saint, in December, 1931, Walter Littlefield, theater critic for The New York Times, cited Bracco, besides Sem Benelli and Gabriele D’Annunzio, as “easily the most impressive dramatist on the eve of the march on Rome in the autumn of 1922. Since then he has lost his impressiveness, although now he is more secretly read than publicly played for, politically, he belongs to the Opposition.”
That literary historians often make overly general comparisons among writers also has worked against recognition of Bracco’s drama. For example, Lander MacClintock, a sympathetic and balanced reader of Bracco, states that The Little Saint “represents a point of arrival and a point of departure in the evolution of Italian theater.” Oscar Brockett, a major historian of modern drama, finds time only to compare Bracco’s plays with others of the period 1900-1915 and states that they are important for their imitation and popularization of Ibsen. Even though Pirandello’s accomplishments, much discussed by these and other literary historians and critics, were novel, Bracco’s were nevertheless solid in their own right.
Success in the theater may be highly suspect from the perspective of the scholar, discerning audience, or succeeding playwright, but good plays often prove their worth by their initial reception. In the period from 1900 to 1920, only one other Italian playwright, Dario Niccodemi, had more productions than Bracco. Bracco’s plays were performed from Budapest, Vienna, and Berlin to Madrid, Paris, London, and New York. English translations of some of his plays were published in Boston in the dramatic and literary magazine Poet Lore in 1907 and 1908, and the first part of...
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Carlson, Marvin A. The Italian Stage from Goldoni to D’Annunzio. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1981. A general study that examines Italian theater during the time in which Bracco was active.
O’Grady, Deidre. Piave, Boita, Pirandello: From Romantic Realism to Modernism. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. This study of Italian drama in the nineteenth and twentieth century sheds light on the climate in which Bracco lived and wrote. Bibliography and index.
Witt, Mary Ann Frese. The Search for Modern Tragedy: Aesthetic Fascism in Italy and France. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001. This study examines the rise of Fascism and its appearance in the drama of Italy and France, a popularity that adversely affected the liberal Bracco. Bibliography and index.