Sir Arnold Wesker

Definition

Theater

  • (1932 - ) British playwright, who made hisname with a trilogy about the history of a Jewish family from 1936to 1959. His own Jewish East-End background was the basis for thethree plays Chicken Soup with Barley, which opened in 1958at the Belgrave Theatre, Coventry, and transferred to the Royal CourtTheatre, London; Roots, which followed in 1959; and I'mTalking About Jerusalem, which appeared in 1960. The trilogy showshow the socialism and idealism of the younger members of the familyare often in conflict with the disillusionment of the older members.The Kitchen (1959) made use of Wesker's memories of his fouryears working as a pastry cook, while Chips with Everything(1962) was based on his National Service with the RAF.

    Many of Wesker's plays deal with the struggles of the idealistin unsympathetic surroundings, a situation in which he has often foundhimself in real life: a natural supporter of antiestablishment causes, hewas imprisoned briefly for his commitment to the campaign against nuclearweapons. In 1961 he established the Centre 42 project at the CamdenRoundhouse with the aim of bringing the arts to working-classaudiences; the centre was wound up in 1971 for financial reasons.

    By this time Wesker's writing career had also run into difficulties;such plays as The Four Seasons (1965) and The Friends (1970) metwith a cool reception from the critics and another, The Journalists(1972), foundered after most of the cast walked out in protest at its politicalstance. In 1976 the Broadway production of Wesker's Shylock, areworking of The Merchant of Venice, closed after a handful of performancesowing to the sudden death of its star, Zero Mostel. Wesker's later plays,none of which has re-established him as a major force in the theater, includeCaritas (1981), about a medieval anchoress, the monologues Mothers(1982) and Annie Wobbler (1983), Blood Libel (1991), BreakMy Heart (1997), and Longitude (2005), from the book by Dava Sobel.He has also written widely for television and radio.

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