- Staging Whiteness
The scale of Mary F. Brewer's intervention in Staging Whiteness at first appears somewhat ill-defined, if not immeasurable: after all, isn't the vast majority of twentieth-century American and British theatre an unselfconscious exercise in staging whiteness? Those of us who research and teach minority drama certainly notice the comfortable hegemony that performances of whiteness still enjoy in journals and syllabi (not to mention Broadway and regional stages), strangely undisturbed by the diversification of academic theatre departments and despite decades of critique by ethnic and postcolonial studies. But it is precisely this gap between racially marked theatre and the unmarked theatrical canon that Brewer seeks to close through her instructive application of critical whiteness studies to modern Anglo-American drama. As Brewer puts it in her introduction, "[T]o isolate the particular cultural location of Whiteness along a spectrum of racialized identities is to make it, and the material effects of its privileged status in society, more visible" (xii).
In theatre studies, Brewer's project also proposes a pedagogical landscape in which no syllabus gets to skirt the uncomfortable issues of racial prejudice – "world theatre," "ethnic/multicultural theatre," and "western theatre" would alike grapple with the theatrical representation of race difference if she had her way. Shannon Jackson has recently suggested that the rare and frequently infelicitous attempts to "theatricalize racism" are the products of white privi-lege's characteristic "feeling that nothing dramatic is happening" (192). In Staging Whiteness, Brewer proves that theatregoers and scholars merely need to learn how to recognize the symptoms of this invisibility in order to realize the omnipresent construction of race on the predominantly white Anglo-American [End Page 120] stage. Or, as Toni Morrison says of this deceptive invisibility, "Even, and especially, when American texts are not 'about' Africanist presences or characters or narratives or idiom, the shadow hovers in implication, in sign, in line of demarcation" (qtd. on 93).
Already, though, the limitation of Brewer's study may be evident: she limits herself to a black–white binary of race difference that all but completely ignores how whiteness (especially in the case of the United States) has been constructed against other communities of color, such as those of Asian, Latin, and indigenous descent. Brewer seems to excuse this major oversight by claiming that all "non-White, non-Western cultures" "were viewed in the same way that the Black 'other' was perceived," a claim that comparative race studies patently disproves (88). In fact, the manner in which the white majority in the United States historically has pitted different racial groups against one another in order to arrange them in a stultifying continuum that Homi Bhabha would call "not quite"/"not white" (89) constitutes a major support for white hegemony in the twentieth century. This oversight is surprising, considering the extensive research Brewer has compiled on the history of race in Britain and the United States; almost half of each chapter in Staging Whiteness is devoted to charting the sociopolitical climate of the two countries in terms of race consciousness and racial policy.
Brewer's reliance on this binary is one of the few such missteps in a book that is otherwise quite attuned to the complex "both/and" operation of racial systems like Bhabha's colonial ambivalence. For instance, Brewer routinely points out that whiteness exists as a performed "identity that is both everywhere and nowhere" (142), and she acknowledges that the dominant theatre's participation in the construction of whiteness has both prefigured/rehearsed progressive change and shored up the status quo. In other words, Brewer presents a balanced analysis, open to theatre's possibilities for both resistant and conservative representations of whiteness.
The qualitative difference between such representations of whiteness does not neatly map onto the presence or absence of non-white characters in the plays Brewer analyzes. She selects from plays that feature interracial or interethnic casts (a differentiated range of character backgrounds that includes "variegated, alien Whiteness" and "'white trash'") as well as plays that seem to deny the...