Henry I. Schvey

Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature
research interests:
  • Modern American and European Drama
  • Shakespeare in Production
  • Expressionism and the Arts
  • Tennessee Williams
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    contact info:

    office hours:

    • Thursday 1:30 - 3:00 pm
    • or by appointment

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • MSC-1108-193-312
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    ​Professor Schvey has lectured and published extensively in the areas of modern European, British and American drama. His most significant writings include an interdisciplinary study of the Austrian expressionist Oskar Kokoschka.

    Henry I. Schvey is Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature, and was chair of the Performing Arts Department from 1987-2007. Prior to his arrival at Washington University, he taught and directed for fourteen years at Leiden University in the Netherlands, where he was a professor of English and American literature. He has lectured and published extensively in the areas of modern European, British and American drama. Among his most significant writings are an interdisciplinary study of the Austrian expressionist Oskar Kokoschka: The Painter as Playwright, a collection of essays on contemporary American drama and published essays on such American playwrights as Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Lanford Wilson, Sam Shepard, and David Mamet. In addition to his research, he founded the Leiden English Speaking Theatre in the Netherlands and was Artistic Director of this touring Dutch company from 1975 until coming to St. Louis.

    He has directed numerous plays in both Europe and the United States, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, The Tempest, Twelfth Night by Shakespeare. In 1992 he started the Shakespeare’s Globe Summer Program, an intensive four-week summer acting program operated in conjunction with The Globe Theatre in London. In addition to directing Shakespeare, he has directed a great many modern plays, including such twentieth century classics as Albee’ The Zoo Story, Peter Shaffer’s Equus, Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal, and Ansky’s The Dybbuk. Among the world premieres he has directed are Richard Selzer’s The Black Swan and Jim Leonard Jr.’s Gray’s Anatomy. He is currently directing the Midwest premiere of Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol’s Shooting Magda.

    More recently, he has turned his attention to writing. His first play, Hannah’s Shawl, first commissioned by the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in 1999, was performed on Holocaust Remembrance Day before more than one thousand people. A revised, two-act version of Hannah’s Shawl, under the direction of Annamaria Pileggi, was staged at Washington University in 2000. He has also completed a novel, The Poison Tree, and an original stage adaptation of Kate Chopin’s novella The Awakening, which was performed in the fall of 2004. This past summer, he participated in the inaugural Playwriting Workshop sponsored by the American College Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

    He has been married to his wife Patty for thirty-three years, and has two daughters, Jerusha and Natasha, a son Aram, and far too many dogs and cats to mention by name. Although born in New York, he has been a rabid Cardinals fan since 1968.

    Blue Song: St. Louis in the Life and Work of Tennessee Williams

    Blue Song: St. Louis in the Life and Work of Tennessee Williams

    In 2011, the centennial of Tennessee Williams’s birth, events were held around the world honoring America’s greatest playwright. There were festivals, conferences, and exhibitions held in places closely associated with Williams’s life and career—New Orleans held major celebrations, as did New York, Key West, and Provincetown. But absolutely nothing was done to celebrate Williams’s life and extraordinary literary and theatrical career in the place that he lived in longest, and called home longer than any other—St. Louis, Missouri.

    The question of this paradox lies at the heart of this book, an attempt not so much to correct the record about Williams’s well-chronicled dislike of the city, but rather to reveal how the city was absolutely indispensable to his formation and development both as a person and artist. Unlike the prevailing scholarly narrative that suggests that Williams discovered himself artistically and sexually in the deep South and New Orleans, Blue Song reveals that Williams remained emotionally tethered to St. Louis for a host of reasons for the rest of his life.

    Oskar Kokoschka: The Painter as Playwright

    Oskar Kokoschka: The Painter as Playwright

    Oskar Kokoschka: The Painter as Playwright focuses on the visual elements of the stage works, specifically on the use of color, light, and scenic imagery in their dramatic as well as their symbolic function. It pays close attention to the stylistically and thematically related pictorial works and takes account of Kokoschka's illustrations for each of his plays.

    The Poison Tree: A Memoir

    The Poison Tree: A Memoir

    Growing up in his father’s looming shadow, Henry I. Schvey wondered if he was doomed to repeat the past, doomed to make the same mistakes his father made. Would he succumb to the drive for domination and transform his own world into one colored by fear, domestic violence, infidelity, and spousal abuse? Schvey grew up in New York as his father rose to the pinnacle of success in the Reagan era of dog-eat-dog global finance, eventually becoming Vice-President and Chairman of the Bond Funds Division at Merrill Lynch. But his father’s success was paid for with the currency of intimidation and he wore it with the braggadocio of a man with an outsized ego who didn’t care who he stepped on to get to the top―including his son.

    The Poison Tree is a study of Schvey’s relationship to his father, an illumination of the secret life of a man who was powerful, highly respected, and greatly feared, and a journey―both sad and tragicomic―that ultimately leads to forgiveness.