Modern Drama

Publisher: University of Kansas. Dept. of English; University of Toronto. Graduate Centre for Study of Drama, University of Toronto Press

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Other titles Modern drama (Online)
ISSN 1712-5286
OCLC 60637264
Material type Document, Periodical, Internet resource
Document type Internet Resource, Computer File, Journal / Magazine / Newspaper

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University of Toronto Press

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Publications in this journal

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    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 06/2014; 57(2):252-272. DOI:10.3138/0586R.252
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    ABSTRACT: This article examines , a modern dance treatment of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin never produced, and the effect that Tom has had on subsequent stage interpretations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Grounded in Linda Hutcheon’s conception of parody as an “ironic playing with multiple conventions,” the article argues that Cummings’s Tom blends Stowe’s narrative with modernist poetry, ballet, and African-American religious symbolism as a way to reactivate the potency of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the twentieth century and suggests that productions like Bill T. Jones’s Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin / The Promised Land (1991), and the Drama Dept.’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1997) followed the pattern of Cummings’s Tom, by using parody and ironic juxtaposition to generate vital, new interpretations of the old story. These performances all suggest that melodrama regains its power to move audiences when presented as a part a collective memory and an intertextual, parodic narrative. The strategies of Cummings, Jones, and the Drama Dept. reveal a modern potential in the intermixture of parody and melodrama.
    Modern Drama 06/2014; 57(2):187-206. DOI:10.3138/md.0577
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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 06/2014; 57(2):165-186. DOI:10.3138/MD.0623
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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 06/2014; 57(2):143-164. DOI:10.3138/md.0601R
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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 06/2014; 57(2):207-228. DOI:10.3138/md.0433R
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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 03/2014; 57(1):19-40. DOI:10.3138/md.0581
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    ABSTRACT: Anu Productions premiered their site-specific devised performance Laundry in the former Magdalene Laundry building on Lower Seán McDermott Street, as part of their four-part artistic investigation of this historical city centre district at the 2011 Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. This essay will offer performance analysis of Laundry (winner of “Best Production,” Irish Times Theatre Awards 2012) and detail how the founding principles of Irish national freedom – the Roman Catholic faith and independent Irish governance – determined that only certain individuals and groups were free, while others were hidden, silenced, punished, and incarcerated for life. Control of the female body existed at the heart of these national power interests, as did careful management of the family unit proper. Visibility, invisibility, free speech, individual agency, and access to political power were all tightly managed privileges in this culture of national, religious, and sexual control and overt gender discrimination.
    Modern Drama 03/2014; 57(1):65-93. DOI:10.3138/md.0595R
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    ABSTRACT: The article discusses the theoretical and generic problems of defining classical and modern tragedy vis à vis contemporary re-adaptations of Greek tragedy. It argues in favour of combining studies in reception history with the aesthetics of genre, and it does so through a re-examination of Fugard, Kani, and Ntshona’s re-adaptation of Sophocles’s Antigone in their famous anti-apartheid play, The Island (1973). Through the analysis of this particular play and its relation to Sophoclean tragedy, the article seeks to explain why the modern aesthetics of theatricality, which has often been invested with a potential to liberate by modern dramatists and theorists, has always been difficult to reconcile with tragic drama; more specifically it thus argues that the conflict of tragedy and play, role and player, action and play, which is crucial to the performance of The Island, has a more general relevance.
    Modern Drama 03/2014; 57(1):1-18. DOI:10.3138/md.0527R
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    ABSTRACT: This article critiques the komedya vis-à-vis its institutionalization as national theatre form and proposes a cosmopolitan alternative in the critique. It argues that the imposition of a nationalist perspective in the reading the form falls into the trap of territoriality and “othering” because of its Roman Catholic and Tagalog-centric orientations. The cosmopolitan critique is necessary because it embodies a middle-path alternative to the essentializing and territorializing character of popular nationalism and the anarchy of pluralism. The discussion of cosmopolitanism comes from the irony that komedya could have offered a cosmopolitan possibility when Filipino artists began its indigenization. The efficacy of this possibility was overpowered by methodological nationalism based on the hegemony of the center (The Greater Manila Area) and its central religion – Catholicism. Thus, the komedya was contextualized as a Catholic theatre form and strengthened a particular hostility against non-Catholics, especially the Muslims.
    Modern Drama 03/2014; 57(1):94-121. DOI:10.3138/md.0533R
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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: 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: 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.

  • Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):284-287.
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    ABSTRACT: In 1960, a young Caryl Churchill lamented the previous decade’s English drama: ‘“[W]e don’t think much of man’s power, but we don’t think his inadequacy matters. We don’t even despair; we mope’” (qtd. in Carney 8). Over the next several decades, Churchill would produce work whose elliptical formalism would wring from despair what Sean Carney might call a Dionysian power: the “affirmation of pure negativity into pleasure” (181). Carney’s The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary English Tragedy offers a wide-ranging and close analysis of Churchill and other post-Brechtian political playwrights, classing them as contemporary tragedians responding to a postmodern English society that no longer countenances tragic experience. Carney’s study persuasively traces the emergence of the tragic as a structure of feeling, across the formally experimental English drama of the last half-century. What is lost in postmodernity is the experience of loss itself – the sense that loss, in Churchill’s word, “matters.” In a late-late capitalist reversal of classical tragedy, the tragic, in this body of work, mourns the neo-liberal expulsion of authentic tragic experience from present-day English life. All these works, Carney argues, enact fantastic alternatives to a post-war ideology of Englishness that disavows negativity and otherness. By acknowledging and creating a dramatic space for non-realist, tragic experiences, these works harbour a “humanizing” impulse at the heart of their anti-mimeticism (16). Carney opens with David Hare, whose Antigone-like protagonists provide a tragic centre within plays that are otherwise aesthetically aligned with dramatic realism. These “tragic refuseniks … find themselves at a remove from the conventions of the society in which they live” and are ultimately martyred to their ideals (28). Carney presses upon the theatricality of these protagonists as a character attribute that opens the plays up to a non-realist formal register. If Hare’s characters appear insincere in their theatrically outsized sincerity, it is not only that they are insufferably dogmatic and unable to “get along”; their incongruence with the world inhabited by other characters shows the world of realism to be aligned with a capitalist ideology that ruthlessly excises perceived misfits. Ultimately, Carney contrasts Hare’s quasi-formalism with the thoroughgoing expressionism of Howard Barker and the Theatre of Catastrophe, where the tragic is seen to emerge through the anti-mimetic staging of ecstatic experience. Barker’s theatricality allows for the representation of that which cannot be depicted realistically: desire and the unconscious. Accordingly, his tragic figures are characters whose “agency is inseparable from the fates to which they succumb” (83). Embedded in catastrophic, dehumanizing situations, they respond by willing catastrophe and voiding themselves of recognizable humanity. Carney rightly theorizes the strange, lyrical beauty of Barker’s often grotesquely violent conceits in materialist terms. Beauty is dialectically bound to pain, and desire constitutes, not a psychological attribute, but a “tragic self-division,” a shattering forfeiture of self-coherence and agency that paradoxically elevates the possibilities within human experience (94, 96). The following chapter extends this dialectical reading of tragic violence to Edward Bond. Carney finds a Promethean impulse toward life in Bond’s concept of “radical innocence” – a “capacity for extreme responsibility, an imaginative sense of connectedness to the cosmos” (158). The Promethean lies beyond rational thought; it belongs to drama, and specifically to what Bond calls Theatre Events – moments of “paradox and impossibility” that reveal the fissures within the larger social world (146, 171–72). Again, Carney points to acts of violence that are inexplicable within a psychologically realist framework. These existential actions dramatize the unavoidable implicatedness of the “right to exist,” the impossibility of mere survival within a post-lapsarian world (169). In the avowedly socialist aesthetics of Bond’s tragic theatre, hope can be enacted only as despair, and humanity be expressed only through the abnegation of recognizably human acts. As Carney turns to Churchill, his attention to the staging of ethical, emotive, and phenomenal contradiction homes in on the figure of the Möbius strip. Churchill’s Dionysian theatre takes on the Möbius-like structure of dreams; desire, the unconscious, and the “unlived life” coextend with reality, always present as its “underside” (176). The libidinal...
    Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(2):273-275.
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    ABSTRACT: In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: Several years ago, the New York Public Library asked me to speak about Shaw, gender, and women’s history at an event entitled, Why Shaw Still Matters. As I explained to the audience, I felt considerable ambivalence about this charge: my book Shaw’s Daughters: Dramatic and Narrative Constructions of Gender had appeared in 1991, and, from my perspective, other related monographs should have long since supplanted mine, resulting in other feminist scholars’ being invited to appear on that panel. Thus, I was pleased to learn that a recent volume of essays, Shaw and Feminisms: On Stage and Off, edited by D.A. Hadfield and Jean Reynolds, aimed “to collect materials covering various aspects of Shaw’s work and influence and put them into dialogue with contemporary feminist thinking” (8). Since the first flurry of scholarship on Shaw and women emerged in the 1970s, a number of relevant articles, as well as a few monographs, have appeared, but this new collection endeavours to negotiate the tension between current feminist perspectives and history: “even as this contemporary reconsideration calls the extent of Shaw’s feminism into question . . . Shaw played a major role in the early stages of feminism” (9). In other words, Shaw scholars are now able to look more impartially at, and acknowledge the complexity of, questions relevant to feminism in relation to his life and work, without the resistance that earlier feminists faced. Simultaneously, the volume provides nuanced readings of dramatic, biographical, and historical topics to confirm that Shaw studies has yet to exhaust this rich area of research. Hadfield and Reynolds organize the collection of eleven essays into three parts: “The Women in Shaw’s Plays,” “Shaw’s Relationships with Women,” and “Shavian Feminism in the Larger World.” Following their introduction, which traces Shaw’s theatrical career in relation to developments in women’s history, four essays examine gender-related political and cultural issues in Shaw’s dramatic works. Tracy J.R. Collins explores “Shaw’s Athletic-Minded Women” (19) through his frequent depiction of female characters’ physical strength. Collins situates these figures alongside the construct of the New Woman and reads them via more contemporary feminist theories of the body. While she rightly notes Shaw’s fascination with this character type, she unfortunately fails to engage either the rational-dress movement that Shaw himself championed or the interest in physical culture that was burgeoning in Europe and America at the time (e.g., through the theories of Delsarte and Jahn) – both of which are integrally related to her topic and would have enriched this discussion. Lawrence Switzky takes up Shaw’s well-known stance as an anti-vivisectionist and juxtaposes it with a trope of gendered violence that he traces through a close reading of The Philanderer. In so doing, Switzky compellingly hypothesizes a lineage from Shaw to Artaud and suggests that “the fragile, sometimes violated, distance between laughter and pain” that we see in Shaw “places him in the vanguard of twentieth-century dramatic experimentation” (53). In her analysis of Vivie Warren as a New Woman, Ann Wilson builds productively on extant scholarship on Shaw and gender to demonstrate how the connections between female identity and British imperialism notably omit England’s daughters. Wilson smartly interweaves these considerations with her examination of the contradictions embedded in Kitty Warren’s aspirations to middle-class status, ultimately demonstrating the interpenetration of British gender, class, and political ideologies. In another strong close reading, Brad Kent notes the comparative paucity of scholarship on Shaw’s Irish women. Using John Bull’s Other Island as his primary example, Kent positions the play in dialogue with Irish nationalist drama, and, more broadly, as emblematic of Ireland’s gendered relationship with England. The four essays that comprise the volume’s second section examine Shaw’s relationships with professional theatre women: actresses, dramatists, and critics. As Leonard W. Conolly aptly notes, scholars have already looked extensively at Shaw’s ties to prominent female performers, yet by considering letters that the playwright exchanged with a lesser-known actress, Mary Hamilton, we are able to understand more about “the challenges facing young women as they tried to establish a professional career in the early years of...
    Modern Drama 01/2014; 57(1):131-133.
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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.
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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: 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: 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: 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.