Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Speech Communication

First Advisor

Fletcher, Anne


This dissertation seeks to address the societal problems associated with alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency in relationship to problematic depictions that have appeared on the American stage. It examines plays that perpetuate stigmas as well as plays that seek to subvert stigmas and stereotypical depictions as a means of creating avenues for discourse. This study asks how we, as practitioners of the theatre, can use the theatre and the act of storytelling to initiate empathy and compassion toward what is still considered a marginalized topic of discussion. Cultural misconceptions regarding the development of and (mis)understandings of alcohol abuse/dependency are perpetuated in our everyday lives, and theatre too often falls into the trap that perpetuates false ideas, which only furthers the stigmas and stereotypes associated with alcoholism. Preceded by a brief Introduction that sets the tone for this study, Chapter One offers medical information to delineate terms associated with alcohol use/abuse. UNIT TWO, presented in two chapters, offers analyses of seven plays: Thornton Wilder's Our Town, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night, Christopher Durang's The Marriage of Bette and Boo, Theresa Rebeck's The Scene, Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, and Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Motherfucker With the Hat. Chapter Two focuses on the first four plays of this list and how each presents a particular problematic and/or stereotypical depiction of an alcoholic character(s) and/or alcohol use/abuse; Chapter Three focuses on the three remaining plays, which offer depictions and/or characters that trouble/complicate the stigmas associated with alcohol abuse/dependency. UNIT THREE is also cast in two chapters: Chapter Four looks at practices and theories used to enhance audience engagement and introduces companies who are using theatre to directly confront issues of alcoholism. Lastly, Chapter Five is a preface for my own full-length play (provided in Appendix A), which acts as my contribution to the ongoing conversations and efforts to diminish the stigmas and stereotypes within alcohol abuse/dependency. The dissertation concludes with a summary and a look at how open conversations regarding alcohol abuse/dependency can lead to empathy and understanding, bringing the topic out from the shadows in an effort to humanize the topic and the individuals and families who are struggling and suffering from alcohol abuse/dependency.




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