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- Other titlesModern drama (Online)
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Publications in this journal
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ABSTRACT: Recent re-evaluation of Tennessee Williams’s late plays has brought to light another side of the playwright, an avant-garde impulse ignored by his contemporaries because it did not match his image as a poetic realist. Of course, this new Williams did not appear out of the blue; he was there from the beginning, if less conspicuous, but the weight of prejudice drove him underground. Thus, the avant-garde is most visible in the early plays, in deviations from artistic norms that did not always make it to the published versions. Summer and Smoke (1948) is a case in point. Examination of the unpublished drafts of the play reveals an ambitious project that never saw the light of day. Inspired by Erwin Piscator’s Epic Theatre, Williams intended to put a screen on the stage, inviting the spectator to see differently, in a manner reminiscent of Brecht’s “exercise in complex seeing.” The drafts, therefore, unveil the avant-garde ideas of a playwright who never ceased experimenting with form, finally to find his true voice, a voice that resonates most loudly in the late plays.Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):19-40.
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ABSTRACT: Hybridity, once a stranger to the vocabulary of cultural criticism, has become a hackneyed buzzword in the era after Homi Bhabha, one that needs to be contested, complicated, or redefined. Siyuan Liu’s new book on the formation of modern Chinese theatre is a scholarly attempt to do just that. Titled Performing Hybridity in Colonial-Modern China, this new monograph is one of the few pioneering works in the field of modern Chinese theatre/performance studies. It provides a historical narrative that demonstrates the rigorous archival tenacity expected for a historian; yet it places this historical narrative within a refined theoretical framework. The keyword here is hybridity. Visiting existing intellectual discussions and debates on the cultural politics of this concept, Liu intervenes in the discourse of hybridity with his sophisticated and insightful reading of a set of historical materials that he uses to map the contours of wenmingxi, the (literally) “civilized drama” that, in the early twentieth century, constituted China’s first, partially western-style theatre. By treating wenmingxi as a site of intercultural production, Liu revives pre-existing models of theatrical interculturalism and proposes that “all intercultural theatre models fail to explain the case of wenmingxi because of its multiple source cultures” (4). Wenmingxi emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, when the traditional operatic form was challenged by new concepts about theatre imported from Japan or Euro-America. Its aesthetic elements derive from traditional Chinese opera, western-style spoken drama, Japan-influenced forms of performance, and forms of popular entertainment. In the traditional historical narrative, wenmingxi is not worth any in-depth scholarly attention because it is not aesthetically “mature.” Scholars mention it simply for its historical function as a transitory genre that led to the more “evolved” form of Chinese modern spoken drama. Liu’s scholarship challenges previous historiography by way of a modified discourse of hybridity. Unsatisfied with current discourse on intercultural theatre as well as postcolonially informed concepts of hybridity, Liu suggests his appropriation of hybridity must be “qualified by the theoretical framework of colonial modernity developed by a group of postcolonial scholars familiar with the East Asian situation” (5). Liu refers here to the hybrid forms of culture that emerged in East Asia at the turn of the twentieth century, which cannot accurately be examined through the dichotomized power dynamics of colonizer and colonized that obtain in more typical colonial situations. Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin and Brian Stross, Liu points out that these cultural forms could be intentional or unintentional hybrid cycles; they are “a complex field of relations as opposed to positively defined elements” (6). They are cultural attempts to reorganize institutions, technologies, and practices as a way to respond to the threat of colonial modernization. In Liu’s view, because the situation of China is semi-colonial rather than colonial, the power dynamics within this reorga-nizational attempt move beyond the binary of source and target cultures. They are caught in a complex web of global colonial capitalism. For Liu, the engine propelling the spread of this global colonial capitalism is nationalism. That’s why Liu starts his narrative of wenmingxi with theatrical nationalism. Indeed, a key strength of his scholarship lies in his comparison of China’s and Japan’s reflections on the nationalization of the French stage. In making this juxtaposition, he seeks to transcend the ossified model of imperialist expansion, followed by postcolonial reaction, and presents, instead, a complicated series of cultural transactions, situated in a global network. For this reason, Liu’s scholarship will appeal predominantly to two groups of scholars, Chinese theatre historians and postcolonialists. The book corrects traditional Chinese theatre history’s teleological mapping of the formation of modern Chinese theatre; it also broadens the theoretical horizon of cultural hybridity by yoking a postcolonial discourse with one of East Asian colonial modernity. Furthermore, Liu multiplies the discourse of hybridity by introducing the concepts of literary hybridity, translative hybridity, and performance hybridity, thereby also expanding the scope of intercultural theatre studies. With these three critical concepts, Liu intends to move beyond the limits that traditionally circumscribe studies of theatre’s aesthetic transmissions. The chapter on literary hybridity tells us how the debate on script-centred or...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):278-280.
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ABSTRACT: The common lore of Sarah Kane scholarship is that Blasted’s characters are initially naturalistic, denoting Cartesian or liberal-humanist subjectivity, and later, are determined products (i.e. “animals” or linguistic fragments). This article shows that such assumptions are erroneous. Kane’s characters, Ian and Cate, are naturalistic; however, an examination of character in the naturalist theatre tradition reveals, not a fixed and autonomous agent, but an individual who is complexly organized by natural and cultural parts and founded upon a compatibilist model of mind. By reflecting upon the “conglomerate” naturalistic character articulated by August Strindberg, in his preface to Miss Julie (1888), the article shows that Kane’s changing dramaturgical treatment of character reveals, not different models of self, but one hybrid individual, capable of change and self-determination. Rethinking Kane’s characters, in this way, as human(ist) (but not liberal-humanist) subjects, the article brings into focus a politics for Blasted that is emancipatory: crucially, people are changeable and the human species has some capacity to determine its future.Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):252-272.
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ABSTRACT: “Lesbians and feminists are not typically associated with gaiety,” Sara Warner plainly states in her introduction to Acts of Gaiety (9). Yet by writing an affective history of ignored, erased, misunderstood performances of lesbian feminism that derive their power from fun and frivolity, Warner proves that humour has always been an important mode of lesbian feminist engagement. Warner’s vivid descriptions, close readings, and astute analyses of performances, culled from five decades of activism, constitute a vital archive of lesbian feminist work and show that pleasure can provide just as powerful a political critique as anger or stridency. In her introduction, Warner provides a brief overview of LGBT history to show that, from early uses of the word “gay” to the recent commercialization of gay pride, the impulse toward an anarchic kind of gaiety has always been thwarted by the normalizing pull of assimilation. She hopes that, through the “reanimat[ion of] gaiety as a political value for progressive social activism” (xii-iii), we might combat what she terms “homoliberalism” – “a conservative program of social assimilation” that offers acceptance to “certain normative-leaning, straight-acting homosexuals” at the expense of nonnormative subjects without altering existing power structures (xi). She also sees gaiety as an antidote to queer theory’s “privileging of negative affects” in the recent work of scholars such as Leo Bersani, Lee Edelman, and Jack Halberstam (xiii). Instead of emphasizing a traumatic past, Warner writes a history of humour, calling for an embrace of laughter and joy; through these positive affects, she sees the possibility of a better future. Although the entire book is an act of historiography, two of the five chapters are more explicitly so, working to correct historical misperceptions of lesbian feminist icons. Warner’s most compelling historiographical intervention comes in chapter one, in which, through careful archival research, she sets the record straight on the controversial Valerie Solanas and her body of work. Warner legitimizes Solanas as an important lesbian feminist artist, misunderstood and maligned in her own time, by disputing both popular misconceptions about her life (largely perpetuated by the 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol) and correcting recent scholarly misinterpretations of her work (such as those by Martin Puchner and James Harding). Warner provides a compelling close reading of Solanas’s 1965 play Up Your Ass, arguing that it is a smart comedy of manners, with a strong anti-capitalist critique. She cites the character of Bongi Perez, Solanas’s hustling butch protagonist, as “unapologetically queer” (38), an early example of female masculinity, and demonstrates that this pre-Stonewall “landmark feminist play” (62) provides a model for work by later groups like Split Britches and Spiderwoman. In chapter three, Warner reconsiders lesbian Village Voice critic Jill Johnston’s personal performativity and her advocacy of lesbian separatism, through the lens of “joker citizenship” (107). Warner sees Johnston’s public behaviour – for example, at the Lavender Menace zap, in 1970, and at a roundtable discussion of women’s liberation, in New York City, in 1971 – as encouraging society’s outsiders to “creat[e] a public spectacle of their private shame in order to expose the operations of power and oppression in society” (107). Analysing Johnston’s Lesbian Nation (1973), Warner argues that Johnston’s concept of a “lesbian nation” is about capturing an emotional state of gaiety rather than creating an actual, physical, women-only location. Warner maintains that Johnston’s understanding of lesbian nationalism is not about disengagement from the public sphere or an “evacuation of nationality” (qtd. on 126) – as Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth Freeman claim – but about questioning and critiquing society’s limited definition of appropriate modes of citizenship. Even as she encourages readers to find inspiration in the activist strategies of the past, Warner cites examples of recycled tactics that have ended up in the service of homoliberalism and homonationalism, rather than revolution. In chapter two, Warner analyses anti-marriage zaps by lesbian feminist groups such as the Feminists and WITCH (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell), who staged a performative protest at a bridal fair at Madison Square Garden in 1969, and reads this anti-marriage, lesbian-feminist activism against pro-marriage equality crusading of recent years, specifically...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):287-289.
- Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):284-287.
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ABSTRACT: This extensive collection of essays investigates the figure of Antigone and Sophocles’s drama Antigone from various theoretical standpoints and poses a number of compelling and pertinent questions about Antigone as a mythical and fictional character and about Antigone as an enduring text. The overarching theoretical line that unites the various analyses is postmodern theory and criticism. The collection asks: how has the Antigone myth been viewed and interpreted historically? What factors prevented the Antigone complex occupying as important a place in philosophical and psychoanalytical discourse as the Oedipus complex did? What can Antigone mean in contemporary bio-political and gendered contexts? What does the performance of Antigone mean in differing cultural and historical contexts? Can she stand for both resistance and conformance? Interrogating Antigone proposes several provocative and stimulating answers to these wide-ranging questions, suggesting that the denial of a central position to Antigone in philosophical discourse can be attributed to her gender, that the play can have manifold significances in modern political contexts, and that the character can represent a variety of political and social positions. A number of theoretical approaches divides the book into four distinct sections. The first examines Antigone under the lenses of philosophy and politics in an attempt to “question and reframe the political space using the conceptual tools taken from contemporary philosophy” (6); the second applies the tests of psychoanalysis and the law to the text and figure of Antigone; the third uses gender as the analytical tool to reassess the subordination of the Antigone figure in relation to Oedipus, with the aim of “formulating an alternative account of sexual differences and kinship system”; while the final section on translation, adaptation, and performance examines the text in performance in differing international and historical contexts in an attempt to understand the enduring popularity of Antigone (11). The book is comprehensive in its investigations and, as such, will inevitably appeal to scholars from many different disciplines and backgrounds. While the initial sections of the collection will appeal to scholars in the areas of philosophy, psychoanalysis, bio-politics, and gender studies, the final section will undoubtedly be of primary interest to theatre scholars. Here, the theoretical discussions found earlier in the book are easily and fluidly incorporated into analyses of selected Antigone performances. Deborah H. Roberts opens the section with an article that, in examining the available English translations of Sophocles’s classic, highlights how some translations (especially that of Robert Fagles) have become so familiar a reference point for scholars that they come to replace the original Greek text, creating a normative English version of Antigone. As translations are often influenced by the interpretation and ideological stance of the translator, Roberts warns that such a reliance on a few dominant English translations fosters our dependence on a particular set of interpretations that may or may not be prominent in the original Greek. The performance and adaptation of Sophocles’s text in differing political and historical contexts is explored in Erika Fischer-Lichte’s “Politicizing Antigone,” in María Florence Nelli’s “From Ancient Greek Drama to Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ – Antígona Furiosa: On Bodies and the State,” in Astrid Van Weyenberg’s “Revolutionary Muse – Fémi Òsófian’s Tègonni: An African Antigone,” and in S.E. Wilmer’s “Performing Antigone in the Twenty- First Century.” The section illustrates how Antigone is eminently suitable for adaptation to differing cultural and political contexts, given that it explores “the unstable and conflicting relationship between individual and state/community” (352). Fischer-Lichte’s and Weyenberg’s articles illustrate the flexibility of Antigone to deliver a variety of messages that can function either to confirm the status quo or to seek to resist it. The strength of this collection lies in the consonance of such performance analyses with the theoretical explorations presented in the preceding sections. Nelli’s and Wilmer’s contributions dovetail nicely with the theories of philosophy and contemporary bio-politics explored first in Audronė Žukausaitė’s article, “Biopolitics: Antigone’s Claim” and then in Cecilia Sjöholm’s “Naked Life; Arendt and the Exile at Colonus,” in Part One of the book. With reference to Giorgio Agamben’s theories on bare life, Nelli...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):138-141.
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ABSTRACT: Mac Wellman, the contemporary American playwright, has said that there is a lot of George Steiner’s Antigones (where Steiner discusses the influence of Sophocles’s play on later writers and philosophers) in his Antigone of 2000. Explicating that relationship reveals that Wellman uses this material in various ways to present a view of the world that has much in common with, and is deeply indebted to, the realist tradition in philosophy and literature. It is also made clear that Wellman’s interest in these authors and this tradition goes far beyond his reading of Steiner’s book. Major elements of that “Hegelian theme” are the division of the spiritual and the real realms, the division within the real realm between word and deed, the predominance of time and change, and the imperfection of the human spirit, leading to endless conflict and disaster. The self, a spiritual thing, is driven to act and encounters resistance but, in the process, proves itself – self-realization. As it proceeds in self-realization, it longs for and, on very rare occasions, succeeds in becoming one with the Absolute. Mac Wellman, true to this philosophical tradition, is a frustrated idealist.Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):41-64.
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ABSTRACT: Performance in the Blockades of Neoliberalism, one of the newest monographs participating in a recent trend to place neo-liberal critique at the centre of the political project of theatre and performance studies, is, in some ways, the most ambitious of the genre. Aided by the writings of the Maoist-influenced philosopher Alain Badiou, Maurya Wickstrom’s target in her new book is nothing short of politics-as-is, the consensus of humanitarianism, liberal tolerance, and rights-based praxis that dominates and enables the present world order. Wickstrom’s project is to propose a set of working theories by which artists may marshal the apparatus of live theatre to produce what she, via Badiou, calls an “Idea,” a universal but locally applicable truth that opposes existing arrangements of power and prevailing modes of thought. The universality of the Idea is part of its potency, and in Wickstrom’s case studies, the Idea is rooted in the equality of subjects left out of more dominant discourses. Being equal, though, is not the same as being the well-behaved victims of “human rights” abuses, who must accommodate themselves to the world that wounded them. For Badiou, politics is fundamentally about rupture, and so, according to Wickstrom, must be political theatre. The right of bodies to speak for themselves and the power of spaces to become sites of antagonism, in both cases discomfiting the very institutions that aim to serve them, hold out a unique hope, for Wickstrom. The “blockades” of her title are not simply walls and borders but rather the “entrapped situations of people violently evicted, disappeared, whose lives are subsequently lived in situations of injustice and exposure” (1). Her study, therefore, is addressed to those navigating a political terrain in which both identitarian and humanitarian politics have come up short. The Palestinian theatre companies Al Rowwad, ASHTAR Theatre, and Inad Theatre, which comprise the book’s first case study, set the paradigm for Wickstrom’s later chapters. As she represents them, their practitioners must wrestle not only with Israel’s attempt to define the spaces they inhabit as apolitical but also with a funding terrain that renders them dependent on NGOs, the UN, and the United States. These institutions, which some companies reject and others embrace, demand a humanitarian politics that prohibits militancy, terrorism, or accusations of occupation. Wickstrom traces how each of the companies manages to “keep destroying the notion of [Palestinians’] incapacity” (58) and to assert the “Idea” of “equality” (11), despite the many limits on such assertions. The tone of Performance in the Blockades of Neoliberalism is predominantly ethnographic. Wickstrom is not a polemicist but an explorer, seeking new experiences and new answers to old questions. Having travelled extensively to each of her sites, she writes to test her ideas, following lines of argument until they prove dissatisfying, then retracing her steps to find more surprising conclusions. Take, for example, her analysis, in chapter three, of The Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City, a “public education exhibit” created by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the mid-1990s. Wickstrom pairs the event with Theatre for Development, the practice of using live performance as an international development tool, to reveal how both re-establish a hierarchy between the Third World sufferer and the First World altruist that depoliticizes the former. Wickstrom’s critiques are devastating and necessary reading in themselves, but even more impressive is how she goes on to reconceptualize humanitarianism itself – using the work of Rony Brauman, one of MSF’s founding members. The opposition to “politics” that Brauman desires for MSF’s “humanitarianism” specifically refuses “the competing business agendas and stakes of institutions and people,” in other words, “politics-as-is” (117). Wickstrom turns MSF’s own philosopher against his institution, and she uses him to describe her own, ideal “Theatre for Redistribution” (89). True to the materialism of Badiou, Wickstrom finds that the tools of a better world are present in our own. The fourth and fifth chapters, which examine theatre by the nomadic community of Irish Travellers and exhibits of plastinated bodies like Body Worlds and Bodies, respectively, similarly find potential in overlooked places. Plays like Michael Collins’s Mobile...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):289-292.
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ABSTRACT: This edited collection is the main outcome of the interdisciplinary project, Performing Presence: From the Live to the Simulated, a collaboration among University of Exeter, University College London, and Stanford University from 2005 to 2009. In the prologue, the editors Gabriella Giannachi, Nick Kaye, and Michael Shanks situate this book against the background of “overtly postmodern critical narratives directed toward media-based theatrical performance in the late 1980s and 1990s” (6), Peggy Phelan and Phillip Auslander being regarded as two of the main representatives of this scholarship. The editors argue that the works of contemporary practitioners of theatre and performance art (see a list of theatre companies on page 3) have brought the uniqueness of the performer’s body to the fore and the same applies to the recent ephemeral turn in museums and art galleries. In the editors’ view, these artistic practices confirm the ontological difference between live and mediatized performance. Archaeologies of Presence is arranged in three sections. The first section, “Being Here: Place and Time,” examines spatial and temporal aspects of experiences of presence in theatre and performance art. The second section, “Being Before: Stage and Gaze,” reflects exclusively on the art of the theatre, with a special focus on the performer’s subjection to the gaze and the emergence of presence as result of psychophysical processes that occur in a spatio-temporal continuum shared by performers and audiences. Finally, the third segment, “Traces: After Presence,” engages in an archaeological reading of the issue of presence, which, in its analysis of a wide range of media and body art, complicates the assumption of live performance as the privileged medium of an unmediated, full presence. In addition, essays in this third section show the inadequacy of archival practices when it comes to capturing the ephemeral nature of theatrical/performative presence (how to bring to the present past performative acts characterized by their ephemerality?). Besides contributions by the three editors, the collection features essays by (in order of appearance) Josette Féral, Rebecca Schneider, Jon Erickson, Erika Fischer-Lichte, Phillip Zarrilli, Simon Jones, Nicholas Ridout, Tim Etchells, Amelia Jones, Lynn Hershman Leeson, and Mike Pearson. With the exceptions of Féral (UQAM) and Fischer-Lichte (Frei Universität Berlin), all the authors are affiliated with anglophone institutions in the United Kingdom and North America. The editors acknowledge the eminently deconstructionist tone of their declaration about the performer’s experiencing the present tense “as always already subject to difference from itself” (7); yet they argue that the distinctiveness of the archaeological turn in performance theory is its ability to account for the occurrence of presence effects in “site-specific and sitesensitive theatre and performance” (8). In this context of reinterpretation of the critical legacy of deconstruction, Rebecca Schneider is the only contributor who goes beyond Jacques Derrida’s Writing and Difference and Of Grammatology, by bringing to the table his Archive Fever, a later work that helps her conceptualize body performance “not as that which disappears (as the archive expects), but as both the act of remaining and a means of re-appearance” (71). It is via Archive Fever that Schneider successfully conceptualizes the dichotomies archive/performance, presence/absence, and appearance/disappearance while avoiding essentialist definitions of presence taunted by a drive to ontology (76). Suzan-Lori Parks’ America Play and Diana Taylor’s Disappearing Acts are, according to Schneider, two examples of the tension between materiality and ephemerality that (re)configures history through performance, beyond “the imperial domain of the document” (75). Such central concepts to this book as being present and persistence of being are derived from Martin Heidegger – needless to say – his philosophy purged of a metaphysics of presence, in postmodern fashion. The frequent use of key terms such as eventness, liveness, and even “fleshiness” (e.g., Zarrilli 95) recalls Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and, in broad terms, the tradition of phenomenology represented by Levinas and Ricoeur, among others. Once Derrida’s ontological critique of presence has been accepted and (partially) reassessed via archaeology, it is through phenomenology that the editors open the door to the exploration of the subjective experience of time, a dimension absent from Derrida’s work. In the last essay of section one...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):128-131.
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ABSTRACT: In Lives in Play, Ryan Claycomb brings together feminist theory and critical considerations of narrative and performativity to examine feminist auto/biographical performances. While existing criticism pits performative concepts of identity in opposition to the idea of the live, performing body as a guarantor of selfhood, Claycomb asserts that feminist auto/biographical performances mobilize this dialectic both to critique ontological notions of identity and to enact a feminist politics of visibility. Claycomb focuses on performances from the late 1960s through the 1990s, in the United States and the United Kingdom. By staging women’s auto/biography, these performances engage second-wave feminist principles: the autobiographical performances that Claycomb analyses simultaneously enact and exceed the second-wave slogan, the personal is political, while the biographical performances participate in second-wave feminism’s recovery of women’s history. Claycomb situates these feminist performances as part of a larger humanist project. Claycomb’s volume is divided into two parts. The first focuses on autobiographical performance, which Claycomb conceptualizes as a laboratory for the potentials and pitfalls of performativity and a limit case for poststructural understandings of authorship. The first chapter examines feminist performance art at the height of the culture wars, including pieces by Kate Bornstein and Bobby Baker. Claycomb dutifully rehearses some well-established arguments about the political potential of performativity in performance. He highlights the ways in which feminist autobiographical performance art of the 1990s throws performativity into relief in order to deconstruct patriarchal notions of gender and sexuality. Claycomb’s second chapter considers the limits of performativity for autobiographical feminist performance, which conflates the body and the self even as it emphasizes a performative understanding of identity. Claycomb traces this trend in feminist autobiographical performance from early feminist performance art through the work of Karen Finley and Holly Hughes to that of Susan Miller and Terry Galloway, which also stages disability. In these performances, Claycomb argues, the material presence of the performer’s body functions as a guarantor of the truth of her lived experience, valorizing and politicizing it. Yet, at the same time, Claycomb sees this materialist approach as emphasizing a critical standpoint that impedes an inter-subjective mutuality. While Claycomb argues that community is instantiated in performance, he posits a genetic concept of mutuality as a precursor to community. In addition, his analysis of disabled women’s bodies in performance flirts with biological and cognitive theories of identity. What his argument gains from these detours is unclear. This turn toward biological determinism goes against the grain of so much feminist thought, which seeks to undo the notion that biology is destiny. Having discussed essential notions of an embodied self in feminist performance, Claycomb risks (from a post-structuralist perspective) another tricky manoeuvre, in his next chapter, by reading Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis as a theatrical autobiography. Claycomb challenges the notion that an autobiographical reading of Kane’s play closes off interpretation; rather, using the narratological concept of the implied author, he asserts that “4.48 Psychosis is both autobiography and not autobiography, both particular to the life of Sarah Kane and simultaneously a collage of references, intertexts, personas, and sites of a broader identification” (101). Claycomb challenges strict post-structuralist effacements of the author in that they “prevent women generally, and Kane specifically, from writing themselves back into history” (105). For Claycomb, reading 4.48 Psychosis as an autobiography repositions the mental anguish represented therein as material and specific rather than abstract and universalized. In addition, an autobiographical reading genders the critique of medical discourse that the play advances and offers women’s anger as a form of resistance. The second half of the book focuses on biographical performance. Claycomb identifies the ways in which feminist biographical performance stages biography, while avoiding grand (wo)man narratives and other patriarchal aspects of more traditional biography. The fourth chapter analyses feminist biographical performances as works that construct histories in the service of feminist polemics rather than historical accuracy (which is also interested), offering templates for action in the present day. Claycomb draws on Templeton’s Delirium of Interpretations, Schenkar’s Signs of Life, and Gems’s Queen Christina as examples. The fifth chapter explores plays that stage representations...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):122-124.
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ABSTRACT: In Laura Cull’s book, Theatres of Immanence: Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance, complex Deleuzian concepts are injected with dramatic life and manipulated with great ease and originality. The book pays a beautiful tribute to the fact that Deleuze’s concepts have also inspired artists and have brought some performances to life: “A growing number of performance practitioners have referenced Deleuze as a philosophical stimulus for their practice, suggesting the particular suitability of his materialist, processual thought for thinking through the embodied, durational art of performance” (2). We can wonder what a “philosophical stimulus” is and how it engages with the performing body. In performance, Cull asserts, “everything thinks” (4). Thinking transpires from the objects onstage, even from non-human elements such as animals (live or not), monsters, ghosts, or puppets. The stage is both “a kind of body” (214) responding to stimuli and a kind of brain, an eerie Frankenstein-like creature neither human nor non-human. Following this important premise, Laura Cull’s book consists in crystallizing textual and physical encounters between the works of thinker-performers such as Antonin Artaud, Carmelo Bene, and John Cage, among others, and the filigreed ethics at work in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. Contrary to what the title of the book seems to suggest, it looks as though performance gradually fleshes out what a Deleuzian ethics could be. The great merit of this research is to testify indirectly to the fact that the only way (a Deleuzian) ethics could express its force is in the non-philosophical, minor idiom of performance. As the reading of this book proceeds, emergent and dynamic systems of ethics percolate into the reader’s mind, shimmying rather unobtrusively at first, like shivers of Spinozist joy. They could be pictured as affective forms of life, as metabolisms, that assert their multiple presences more positively in performance. This ethics composes itself like a resisting fabric, made of sentient matter, and reverberating human relational or affective efforts in duration. The open composition that performance materializes by affecting the bodies and brains of its audience resists the hollowing exteriority of accidents, decomposition, and death. The ethics it portrays has nothing to do with a moral system of values; its highest degree of intensity would correspond to a maximal capacity to be affected by others, as an amplitude of gesture. Further down the line, the ethical claims that underpin the book are made clearer and clearer. The consequences of an immanent perspective for ethics in performance, as opposed to a transcendent view of ethics, are tremendous. The divine imperative has dissolved into the levelling sensuous thickness of the stage-real. Yet, this horizontality of immanent stage existence does not mean irresponsibility and general mayhem – quite the contrary. There is a throbbing, a power of life that enjoins the participating audience to respond to it and respect its demands, increasing their own body power by contagion. Approaching ethics in performance with Antonin Artaud, Carmelo Bene, Robert Wilson, The Living Theatre, Goat Island, Marcus Coates, and Alan Kaprow, among others, allows the author to acknowledge the depth and unpredictability of perceptual experience. More importantly, it seems that what philosophy can’t say about ethics, performance can make us feel, as an intense field force, as human and nonhuman generosity. “Goodness,” as Laura Cull uses the word, becomes this persevering gesture of composition against decomposition – the resisting movements of open hands and dancing bodies, which have aesthetic and political meanings: “For goodness is itself a matter of movement and composition; always a part, relative, open” (240). One of the major consequences of this view of ethics is to acknowledge how, in performance, our bodies do not belong to us, and there is no property relation or hierarchical divide between our bodies and our minds. This strict parallelism between body and mind is made more concrete in performance than it is in Deleuze’s account of Spinoza’s immanent practical philosophy. Not only do we have to acknowledge what bodies can do onstage, but also marvel at the fact that they can merge and coalesce into different modes of sociability, into a community or an audience. The obliqueness of Laura Cull’s slant on...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):124-126.
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ABSTRACT: This essay aims to bring a socio-historical perspective to the current critical assessment of Ibsen’s Pillars of Society, which has been largely confined to the ethical and the cultural. Combining a Bakhtinian, chronotopic analysis with a Bakhtinian / New Historicist understanding of literary texts as inevitably or deliberately informed by historical processes, the essay argues that the socio-economic/socio-historical plot in the play is the larger, as well as more determining, dramatic component and force. It posits that industrial capitalism and technological modernization are the intertwined dynamics that propel the drama from beginning to end, forming its central axis of plot in the shape of the railroad enterprise.Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):143-164.
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ABSTRACT: By replacing dialogue with narration, ventriloquist theatre raises central questions about its ethical and political costs, while challenging our understanding of the limits between drama and narrative. In very different ways, Elevator Repair Service’s Gatz (first performed 2006) and Mariano Pensotti’s El pasado es un animal grotesco [The Past Is a Grotesque Animal] (2010) redraw the boundaries between literary modes, putting characters onstage but replacing their dialogue with narrated text. Staging narration allows us to reconsider literary mechanisms to which we have largely become inured. Rendering the invisible narrator as a presence on the stage lays bare both the arbitrariness of narrative authority and its costs.Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):165-186.
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ABSTRACT: Since the mid-1990s, only 20 per cent of plays produced during any Broadway season have been written by women, prompting scholars and playwrights to demand change. Leslie Atkins Durham, in Women’s Voices on American Stages, wishes to promote contemporary female playwrights and connect them through their shared topical concerns. Durham’s goal is twofold: first, to reinforce Sarah Ruhl as a serious playwright; and second, to contextualize her work within the dramatic community. Using Ruhl’s plays as thematic guideposts for each chapter, Durham positions two other plays alongside Ruhl’s, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle inspired by the third-wave feminist impulse to emphasize congruous concerns or overlapping methodologies among women’s work, without prioritizing any one play over the other. Anthologies typically devote a chapter to each writer’s creative achievements, style, and development, whereas Durham smartly places her writers’ works in conversation with each other, not only creating echoes among the plays but also giving greater significance, by dint of collective appraisal, to topics such as care-giving or feminist theology. After a brief nod to Ruhl’s artistic development, Durham divides her advocacy project into five chapters: “Emotional Journeys,” “Caring Labor,” “Theatrical Devotion,” “Mobile Lines,” and “Natural Forces.” The book’s originality lies in this method of examining women’s artistic work, not only along thematic lines but also via creative perspectives on topical issues; however, even in light of Ruhl’s popular success, it seems limiting to take any one writer’s corpus and make it the defining parameter of the group. The usefulness of Durham’s approach is evident in several chapters – notably, when she demonstrates how the comparative consideration of a similar topic by several playwrights (usually in plays produced within the same year) raises important questions. For example, plays such as Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Jenny Schwartz’s God’s Ear stand as illuminating responses to Ruhl’s treatment of death and mourning in Eurydice. As these women reclaim grief as a cultural gesture, we are reminded – in the contrast between the desire to mourn and the need to control emotions – of the risk of doing so: Didion’s voice sounds eerily clinical as she details her grief, while Ruhl personifies a chorus of Stones, who warn against emotional displays. Durham draws upon contemporary theorists to further contextualize the meaningful topicality of the plays; here, for example, she incorporates Sara Ahmed’s study The Cultural Politics of Emotion, to criticize the harmful prioritizing of rationality over passion. Another chapter, “Mobile Lines,” integrates theories about mobile technologies – that is, cellular phones and online chat rooms – with the dramatic analogues offered by women playwrights. Comparing Quiara Alegria Hudes’s Water by the Spoonful with Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Durham provides evidence of how mobile technologies challenge our concept of stable identities or relationships: Hudes’s characters find themselves liberated by their online identities, even as this liberation causes trouble in their real lives, while Ruhl’s shy character, Jean, escapes her sense of urban isolation when she locates a cell phone belonging to a deceased man. The paradoxical contradiction between the seemingly fixed locale an individual inhabits and the unfettered mobility of technology also becomes dramatically apparent in Bathsheba Doran’s Kin, where cellular technology, Facebook, and online dating enable proximal closeness across considerable geographical distances; all three plays witness familial attachment despite time, space, age, and life trajectories. By illuminating such parallels between plays, Durham provides instructive readings of little-known plays and substantiates their specific cultural relevance. Ruhl’s surrealist style defies easy interpretation. And, because her plays have not received much scholarly attention, Durham’s readings address a critical need. For example, through an attentive reading of the dialogue, Durham shows how In the Room Next Door or the Vibrator Play dismantles a false dichotomy between the natural world and electric devices, as the vibrator re-introduces the body to its natural response. Likewise, exploring Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Durham takes the seemingly random plot twist of organ donation and views it as a thematic parallel to possessing a cell phone, in that our current dependency has transformed the...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):275-278.
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ABSTRACT: Theatre of the Real offers an analysis that productively extends Martin s previous body of work on verbatim and documentary performance to address, in addition, models of theatre that engage with the real through diverse practices. The study thus broadens what we might understand as theatre of the real, to encompass aesthetics that foreground the self of the actor; the use of puppets to reconfigure imagined yet “real life” events; adaptation that utilizes classic fictional texts to reflect on contemporary reality; interactive theatre; and the use of mixed media, documentary footage, and live performance to comment on shifting perspectives on the real. Martin’s study revisits key historical productions by Peter Weiss, the Performance Group, and JoAnne Akalaitis, but her conceptual framing of a theatre of the real is predominantly contextualized within the contemporary moment, in which sophisticated and global mass-media communication and social networks increasingly construct our experience of the real. Martin positions the narratives of theatre and performance as an additional, and politically vital, channel of information, which contributes to the framings and reframings of reality through “acts of imagination in the forms of reiteration, representation, and narration” (74). Martin’s analysis of theatre practice is correspondingly framed by moments, such as her own experience of 9/11, where a sense of the real is constructed from a complex layering of live and mediatized perception of events. Martin’s rationale for considering such a diverse range of practice within the rubric of theatre of the real is that all the productions she discusses “intend for spectators to reconsider the world around them on the basis of the theatrical experiences these works offer” (175). Martin is clear, however, that ideological distinctions can be made between practices that offer a “ritual revocation of authority” and those that merely “ease the dissonance of irresolvable difference to enable forgetting of uncomfortable narratives” (16). This distinction is examined most explicitly in the two chapters that engage predominantly with verbatim and documentary theatre. In her analysis of theatrical representations of Jews, Martin offers a range of examples of how the real is represented, including the anonymous puppets of Hotel Modern’s Kamp; “mere speaking tubes” (90), as Peter Weiss described the figures in his production The Investigation; the autobiographical self-performance mode of Leeny Sack and the biographical portrayal in Emily Mann’s Annulla; and the verbatim performance of Anna Deavere Smith’s Fires in the Mirror and David Hare’s monologue Via Dolorosa. Martin highlights some key ideological distinctions among the choices she examines, such as the contrast between the singular voice that dominates Hare’s narrative and Deavere Smith’s multiplicity of characterizations. Likewise, Martin identifies the capacity of Hare’s accomplished and entertaining text to smooth over the “complexity of the convictions, history, and suffering of those he observes” (107), rather than leave the pauses for thought that Sack and Mann do, enabling us to struggle with sometimes irreconcilable realities. In another chapter, Martin not only critiques the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie, for its one-sided perspective on the events that occurred in Gaza, but also interrogates the context of its original production, of productions transferred elsewhere, and of the press discourse that surrounded its development for the Royal Court Theatre in the United Kingdom, arguing that this further exacerbated what she reads as a problematic ideological intervention into a complex political situation. Emerging throughout the study is Martin’s conviction that a theatre of the real should strive for ways of embracing and sustaining the contradictions – and sometimes lack of resolution – of the real events of history. Such a perspective is firmly allied to a poststructuralist politics, advocating pluralism, complexity and scepticism as necessary strategies to combat the oversimplified ideological narratives of the mass media’s representations of the real. For Martin, what is required is “an aesthetic and analytical discourse that represents the real in order to call it into question” (174). The importance of this study lies in its broadening of our conception of a theatre of the real, its capacity to reach beyond an analysis of such theatre practice on its own terms to ask critical and topical questions concerning the nature of the...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):280-282.
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ABSTRACT: According to Bernard Dukore, thirty-seven of Shaw’s fifty-two plays “employ the themes of slaves of duty and tricks of the governing class” (108). Being subservient to conventional notions of duty was, of course, a central theme of Ibsen’s – the first, and perhaps most lasting, of Shaw’s dramatic influences. Shaw borrows the theme from Ibsen in his first “unpleasant plays,” and it remained a central theme of Shaw’s, according to Dukore, to the very end of his career. This being the case, Dukore seeks to redress a lacuna in Shaw studies: “comments on the specific themes of Slaves of Duty and Tricks of the Governing Class have been made [by Shaw scholars] almost in passing. Until now, they have not been focused upon in detail or in depth” (9). After locating the roots of this theme in Ibsen – and more superficially in W.S. Gilbert’s The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty (1879) – Dukore sets out in his first chapter, “Duty Bound and Duty Free,” to lay out his argument and to detail for the reader the organization his book will take. Amazingly, we learn that Dukore will explore the twin but interconnected themes of his title in these thirty-seven plays in chronological order, from Widowers’ Houses (1892) to Farfetched Fables (1950), and will do this in the remaining 109 pages of the book. Chapters two and three, “Unpleasant and Pleasant Plays,” and “Puritans and a Prizefighter,” as the chapter titles suggest, look at most of the works from Shaw’s first three volumes of plays (Plays Unpleasant, Plays Pleasant, and Plays for Puritans), the ten plays he wrote in the 1890s, along with his verse play The Admiral Bashville (1901), which was based on Shaw’s 1882 novel about a prizefighter, Cashel Byron’s Profession. Dukore states that one of the pleasant plays, The Man of Destiny (1895), does not actually “dramatize either slavery to duty or tricks of the governing class” (6), but nonetheless, contains a capsule statement from the character signalled by the title, Napoleon, “whose importance to our analysis is disproportionate to its relative brevity” (6). Napoleon remarks that the Englishman has an uncanny propensity to arrive at the “conviction that it is his moral and religious duty to conquer those who possess the thing he wants” (Shaw, Man of Destiny; qtd. 6). Although he does not otherwise cover The Man of Destiny in his book, Dukore repeatedly returns to Napoleon’s trenchant speech to illuminate other plays under discussion. Chapter four, “The Big Three,” examines Shaw’s early twentieth-century trilogy, Man and Superman (1902), John Bull’s Other Island (1904), and Major Barbara (1905). This is the first chapter where Shaw’s plays get a little more extended treatment, with an especially incisive, although still very succinct, analysis of John Bull. John Bull’s Other Island is especially rich for uncovering the theme announced by Napoleon in The Man of Destiny, as its central character Tom Broadbent perfectly embodies Shaw’s vision of the English governing class, someone whose trickery is apparently unconscious, as he has made it a matter of moral duty to fulfil his own acquisitive desires. It is also from one of these three ground-breaking plays, Major Barbara, that Dukore takes the last part of his title. In Act Three of that play, the munitions manufacturer Andrew Undershaft announces to his estranged wife that tricks of the governing class will not work on him, as he is a member of that class himself. The remaining chapters continue to group a set of plays under a title denominating either the period in which they were written or the dramatic style or form: “Late Edwardian Plays,” “Plays of the War Years,” “An Allegory, an Adaptation, and a Different War,” “Plays during Hard Times,” and “Parables and Playfulness.” “Plays of the War Years” alludes, of course, to World War I, and the allusion to a different war in the following chapter is to the Hundred Years War that Shaw chronicles in Saint Joan (1924); “Plays during Hard Times” refers to the plays Shaw wrote under the influence of the Great Depression, and “Parables and...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):126-128.
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ABSTRACT: Often considered the final conquest and ultimate summation of Manifest Destiny, California holds a unique place in the American imaginary. While the popular mythology of the Spanish fantasy has served to obscure the use of violence and racialized oppression throughout the colonization of the American Southwest, traces of such struggle remain in memories of the colonized as they continue to occupy this contested space. This paper examines Carlos Morton’s ensemble-based political satire, Rancho Hollywood, and Theresa Chavez’s one-woman show, L.A. Real, to navigate the dynamic experience of contemporary Southern Californian racialized identity. These two pieces diverge stylistically but share an inclusive, nuanced approach to making sense of history, exploring the material and epistemological impact of historical representation on Chicana/o identity over time. Rancho Hollywood and L.A. Real counter-identify with the Spanish-fantasy heritage by rejecting stereotyping, questioning sanitized versions of Californian history, and voicing personal narratives that resist dominant regional myths and their associated racial ascriptions. Each play stages alternative versions of history that include personal experience and cultural memory; this transformative, productive approach to identity formation articulates agency over the memory of California.Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):207-228.
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ABSTRACT: While earlier musicals, which developed popular songs, tended to focus on romance, differing backgrounds of the two members of a romantic couple, and their acceptance of each other and into a community, introspective musicals, which Stephen Sondheim pioneered after rock ‘n’ roll began to define popular music, often dramatize psychological layers by exploring the discrepancy between the persona a character constructs and the character’s true inner self. I examine the way introspective musicals construct a paradigm of psychological growth, which usually involves characters’ creating strong masks/personae to hide their authentic selves and then ultimately gaining the courage to remove those masks. By looking at the construction of personae and their eventual attempts to accept emotional vulnerability – in Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party, and Stew’s Passing Strange – I explicate the way smaller, post-Sondheim musicals have shifted toward dramatizing an isolated character’s emotional development.Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):229-251.
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ABSTRACT: Theatre has long been considered the form of expression that least interested the surrealist movement, as defined and led by André Breton. Abandoning drama himself after a few minor forays during his early Dada years, Breton discussed the form only rarely and usually quite dismissively, arguing that, like the novel, it tended to enslave the creative text (and, indeed, its performance) to a naïve, rationalist, and unproductive notion of “reality.” Other adherents of the movement, most notably Antonin Artaud and Roger Vitrac, had more faith in the capacity of the theatre to accommodate surrealist preoccupations and express them productively, but their experiments generally took place at the margins of the “official” movement. The enthusiastic, later rediscovery of Artaud justifiably abstracted his particular vision from the surrealist context out of which it had originally emerged, and if Artaud became a key figure for both the theory and practice of performance, in the 1960s and after, his connection with the Bretonian vision of surrealism was scarcely a factor in this afterlife. Yet it is this surrealist genealogy that Vassiliki Rapti’s study seeks to reassert. Rapti’s thesis is that, despite Breton’s explicit doubts about and even hostility toward the theatre, an implicit dramatic theory can be reconstructed from his writings, and that, while Breton did not or could not seek to put it into practice himself, other writers subsequently did – not only Artaud and Vitrac, but the Greek surrealist Nanos Valaoritis and a later generation of experimental practitioners, including Robert Wilson and Megan Terry. Rapti claims that it is possible to trace, through this lineage, a form of theatrical experiment that is founded (albeit as implicit and impossible) by Breton, on the basis of distinctively surrealist notions of dialogue and play. Through close readings of works by these writers, she sets out to uncover these notions at work in them and to connect them back to a ludic, non-mimetic, surrealist vision of the theatre, established by Breton. Much hinges, then, on the first chapter, where Rapti seeks to reconstruct Breton’s “ludic dramatic theory” (46), notably from a key scene in his 1928 autobiographical prose narrative, Nadja, in which the eponymous protagonist invites him to play a game of word association with her. The verbal image that Nadja conjures reminds the narrator of the one piece of theatre he passionately admires, a piece of grand guignol by Pierre Palau called Les Détraquées (meaning “madwomen” or “the unhinged”). This image becomes the nexus of a web of surreal associations for Breton, and for Rapti, who compares his account of the incident to that of a “performance analyst,” using a term drawn from Patrice Pavis (37–38). From Breton’s response to it, she extrapolates an incipient theory of performance, based on a dialogical and non-mimetic practice, where the performer – like Nadja in this scene, or like a child playing an imaginative game – both embodies the other and remains herself. It is this conception of performance that Rapti, then, tracks through the theatrical experiments of Vitrac, Valaoritis, Wilson, and Terry, arguing that they are able to put into practice (not least, thanks to new technological developments) a theatre that approaches Breton’s supposed ideal. Breton only thinks he hates the theatre, Rapti argues, because he thinks of the theatre as Aristotelian, realist, and intrinsically mimetic. Later practitioners, influenced by him, are able to show that it doesn’t have to be any of those things. The problem with all this is that it relies on very limited evidence. Rapti’s tracing of the scene from Nadja and its associations is interesting, but she fails to establish it as specifically theatrical in character. The idea of “performance analysis,” as used here, is nothing more than a reframing of what is already theorized explicitly in surrealist thinking on poetry, the dream, the image, or the found object. What Repti sees as dialogic/ludic and therefore intrinsically theatrical is, in fact, a general dialectical principle, extensively elaborated both by surrealists (notably via Hegel) and their later critics. No reference to any of this material is made in the book, leaving its claims somewhat decontextualized. What is more, Breton makes several...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):282-284.
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ABSTRACT: The question of what conditions the sexes and whether there is anything that can be called a “true woman” has long been the subject of philosophical speculations. In the second half of the nineteenth century, it caused a particularly intense debate, which was also reflected in the sphere of culture. The sound of Nora in Ibsen’s Ett dockhem (A Doll House) slamming the door shut after her echoed widely, and arguments were advanced for and against her actions. The play Sanna kvinnor (True Women), which premiered at Dramaten in 1883, is perhaps the best known of Anne Charlotte Leffler’s plays. It depicts the then current point of intersection between the private sphere, where matrimonial love is economically conditioned, and the public sphere, where the law gives a married woman the right to dispose of her income and inheritance by herself. Like Ibsen and Strindberg, Leffler lets the middle-class family become the players who enact the social and cultural conflicts of her time. The play’s title, Sanna kvinnor, is deliberately ambiguous with its ironic twist and implicit question mark. In what way love, freedom, marriage and sexuality were to be balanced in the relation between the sexes was a question that recurred constantly in literature and drama, and Leffler’s writings were no exception. Leffler (1849–1892) was the first female playwright of importance in Sweden, and just like Strindberg and Ibsen, she is considered to be one of the Scandinavian founders of what came to be called the modern drama. In her lifetime, Leffler was more successful than Strindberg. She wrote plays but also short stories, reviews, essays, travel accounts, and two novels. Despite her success as a playwright, her dramatic works were forgotten. In literary histories, her plays have often been designated “dramas of indignation” and seen as too conditioned by their time to be of interest. That perspective, however, is beginning to change. The book True Women and New Women on the Fin-de-Siècle Scandinavian Stage by Lynn R. Wilkinson is an example of recent research into the breakthrough to modern drama and to dramatic works written by women. The express purpose, here, is to do a more systematic analysis of Leffler’s dramatic works and put them into a wider context, in order to study how they may have contributed to create a role model for the New Woman of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. What was the relation between Leffler’s dramatic works and contemporary drama in Europe? And are there any points of contact with the first wave of feminism? And last but not least, how was her career as a successful dramatist made possible? In the book, a picture emerges of a talented, purposeful, well-travelled, and politically conscious writer, whose dramatic output is much too complex and interesting for it to be designated merely a document of its era’s debate over gender. Wilkinson describes the conditions of Anne Charlotte Leffler’s upbringing that make her career as a writer possible as well as how her experiences as a woman in a middle-class family nourished the political discussion about the role of women that Leffler wanted to conduct. Wilkinson points to the fact that, in all of Leffler’s plays, there is a female character who wishes for a different life from that of wife or fiancée. These are women who want to shape their lives according to their talents and interests, and love, as well, must rest on an equal basis if it is to be true. Leffler’s travels abroad widened her political perspective, something that is reflected in her depiction of the connection between class and gender. Leffler was the youngest of four children, and the only daughter. The family was affluent, and Leffler was given a good education for her time. She was sent to one of Stockholm’s better girl’s schools, and in this way, she came into contact with the cultural circles of the upper strata of society, where she developed an important network. Wilkinson emphasizes the importance of this social intercourse and the fact that it gave the young Leffler a kind of schooling in...Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):136-138.
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