Jack Woodruff Memorial Notes
on International Drama:
Jack Woodruff taught at Carleton College, Northfield, MN from 1957 to 1974 as professor of English and Dramatic Literature. He was resident director for the Carleton College Players, and in that capacity he is particularly remembered for his interest in European theatre and his willingness to champion post-World War II European drama. He did this in part by finding European plays never before produced in North America and bringing them to Carleton for their premiere performances in the United States. His greatest triumphs in this regard were North American premieres of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle and Duerrenmatt’s Romulus the Great.
Jack, as particularly drama students knew him and caused him to be known across campus, was both a dedicated theatre craftsman and a fascinatingly insightful guide to students reading the cosmopolitan dramatic achievements that began with Chekhov, Ibsen, and Shaw and that were perhaps at their high watermark in the ‘50’s in the heady, philosophic works of existentialism and absurdity. The vehicle then in vogue for these impulses was dark comedy.
ITCHS’ Executive Director and ITCHS’ Program Director are both Carleton alumni, and both were foundationally influenced by Jack’s brilliant work as theatre artist and as instructor in modern dramatic literature. ITCHS’ emphases on Chekhov, Ibsen, and Shaw, therefore, are hardly accidental. Nor was Program Director Paul Grawe’s decision at the graduate level to attempt a dissertation defining dark or sombre comedy. (Comedy in a New Mood is a recasting of that dissertation.) It was an audacious decision immediately objected to by Northwestern University Prof. Moody Prior who would become Paul’s dissertation advisor: “But [to do that] you’d have to define comedy first!” The resultant dissertation, of course, did exactly that, not by some forced necessity of bending to an imperious advisor but entirely because Dr. Prior was a fine literary critic with a deeply rational mind and an intolerance for shoddy thinking. Moody Prior’s influence along with Jack Woodruff’s should be easily observable on every page of the ITCHS site.
Also not coincidentally, Paul’s concentrated interest in dramatic literature began with his being selected a Carleton Players’ First Nighter from his sophomore to his senior years. And even less coincidentally still, his love for European drama rests on taking Jack Woodruff’s Modern Drama course and, in 1966, playing the role of Tullius Rotundus in the premiere North American production of Duerrenmatt’s Romulus the Great.
Paul H. Grawe, Carleton College 1966
Robin Jaeckle Grawe, Carleton College 1969