Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

by Ray Lawler

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Critical Context

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Although Lawler has written other plays, his reputation rests on Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. The Piccadilly Bushman (pr. 1959, pb. 1961) satirized English-aping Australians, but it received a cool reception when produced. Two more plays appeared during the 1970’s, Kid Stakes (pr. 1975, pb. 1978) and Other Times (pr. 1976, pb. 1978); they also treat the characters from Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. The first work concerns their meeting in 1937, the second depicts their adjustments to a changing Australia after World War II. Known collectively as The Doll Trilogy, the three plays have been performed together in Australian theaters.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, or The Doll, as it is most often called, outshines the other two plays in the trilogy and remains one of the most-loved and best-known works in Australian theater, which it has been credited with setting on a new course. First, a number of similar plays—some good, some not—by other writers soon appeared. Then younger playwrights in the 1960’s rebelled against what they considered “The Doll’s” outdated dramatic structure and the hold that theatrical convention had on the play. They began to direct the Australian theater into an experimental phase, drawing heavily on European and American absurdists. At the same time, though, these playwrights also took much of their material from urban life in Australia, questioned the country’s private and public myths, and wrote dialogue that depended on the vernacular—in short, though structurally dissimilar, their work owed a large debt to that of Lawler. Whatever directions the Australian theater has taken or will take in the future, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, dated though it is in some respects, will not be forgotten.

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