Messiah of the New Technique: John Howard Lawson, Communism, and American Theatre, 1923–1937 is a critical and political biography and a cultural and social history that focuses on Lawson’s career in the theatre. Using a materialist methodology, Jonathan L. Chambers emphasizes the evolution and interplay of the playwright’s artistic vision and political ideology, considering his art as both a documentation of this evolution and a product of the socio-political and cultural matrix in which he was immersed.
Spanning the playwright’s career, the volume details Lawson’s early indoctrination in and commitment to the avant-garde, his use and development of various nonrealistic playwriting techniques, his subtle though unfocused attacks on bourgeois society, and the varied critical responses he received. Chambers addresses Lawson’s involvement with the New Playwrights’ Theatre and his participation in the protests surrounding the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, which stimulated his growing commitment to left-wing politics and radical causes.
Chambers also analyzes the social and cultural factors that shaped Lawson’s growing interest in revolutionary politics, his tutelage in Marxism under Edmund Wilson, and his tenure as president of the Screen Writers Guild. He also covers the final phase of Lawson’s playwriting career, which reveals the playwright’s internal struggle. That struggle, suggests Chambers, pitted Lawson’s view of aesthetics against his political ideology and is reflected in his scripts and theoretical writings.
Messiah of the New Technique provides a wealth of new material about both the playwright and the period, offering a critical synopsis of the artist’s career, addressing his often vehement rebuttals to his critics, and summarizing both his political activism and his creative and critical endeavors in the last forty years of his life.