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SeriousMoneyBecomes"Businessby Other Means": Caryl Churchill's MetatheatricalSubject DANIEL JERNIGAN I. Metatheatrical Trends In his foundational work devoted to defining the difference between tragedyand metatheater, LionelAbel identifies numerous distinguishing characteristics of metatheater. Numbered among them is the claim that "for metatheatre, order is something continually improvised by men."1 Even this singular tenet, which for the sake ofbrevity I will call the'Ontological Order Tenet," can be regarded as fairly comprehensive, especially if it is read as suggesting that metatheater endeavors to point out ontologicallythatthe physical world might notbe quitewhat it seems. Moreover,distinguished participants in the form such as Luigi Pirandello and Bertolt Brecht are defended by Abel as metatheatrical, at least according to his theory.2 When Pirandello "explores dramatically our inability to distinguish between illusion and reality" it can be seen as metatheatrical (according to the Ontological Order Tenet) because even as metadrama blurs the boundaries between illusion and reality, it does so by circumscribing a theatrical order explicitly "improvised by men"; Brecht is metatheatrical, in Abel's scheme of things, because "he insists on the fact that [his characters] are puppets"; he "does not try to pass them offas realpeople,and [he] delights in exhibitingtheirmechanisms." In keeping with the Ontological Order Tenet this reminds us that the point of Brechts plays is to focus on the very fact that they have indeed been "improvised by men." 291 292Comparative Drama It is also worth noting that there is something distinctive about how Brecht commits to this Ontological Order Tenet when compared with Pirandello's handling of the matter. If we revise the Ontological Order Tenet so that it reads "For metadieater, the social order is something completely improvised by men," for instance, we may understand it as a "Social Order Tenet," an idea far more central to Brechts work than it would be to Pirandello's. Brecht's work is different from Pirandello's in that it makes use of metadramatic concepts not only in the ontological sense to reveal that the world might not be quite what it seems, but in its rendering evident the ideological, constructed nature of society, which implies that under the right set ofcircumstances it too could be different (even better) than it is. While nottypicallydescribedas metadramatic,Caryl Churchill'swork has time and again been linked to Brecht's, particularly in her use of various alienation techniques. Like Brecht, she "delights in exhibiting [her characters'] mechanisms" in order to disrupt the audience's comfort level and to inspire critical thinking about the play's subject matter. If we are to follow Abel's salient definition of metatheater's characteristics , then a case has already been made in the literature that Churchill is indeed metatheatrical. Her most acclaimedplay, Cloud9,3 in fact,serves as an apt example of the way in which the playwright fulfills the Social Order Tenet in an explicitly Brechtian way, such as when she asks that each character in the play be cast in such a way as to draw attention to stereotypical attitudes about race and gender.4 It isveryclear that at least some of Churchill's work is directed toward critiquing the fact that the "social order is something completely improvised by men." Churchill does not, however, invoke the Ontological Order Tenet merely in order to investigate the way in which order in both the real world and the theatrical world are similarly constructed (as Pirandello did), nor does she simply use the Social Order Tenet to characterize theatrical productions themselves as something"completelyimprovised by men" (as Brecht did). This essay investigates a metadramatic technique distinctivelyChurchill's—thewayin which she explicitiyrecognizes how the two sides of the fourth wall, that conceptual barrier between audience and stage, actually interactwith one another. Moreover,because the means oftheatrical production were much different in Brecht's era than DanielJernigan293 they are today, particularly with the advent of multinational corporations and instantaneous forms of communication, this study begins to reveal Churchill's metadramatic modus operandi; that is, the improvisations ofthe theatrical community can be recognized in Churchill's work as constructions specifically designed to serve the interests ofstatus quo multinational capitalism (for example, by propping up only those artificially constructed versions of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 291-313
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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