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332Comparative Drama historical materials is a simple and rather transparent process. While GoyBlanquetisscrupulouslycarefulinkeepingupwiththeverylatestin Shakespearean scholarship, she shows nowhere near the same diligence in examining the work of historians like Antonia Gransden, Daniel Woolf, and Joseph Levine; nor is there any trace of Annabel Patterson's book on Holinshed, Shakespeare's primary source. Finally, and inevitably, there is the question of the purpose and audience ofthis book. In her effort to assure multivalency, to avoid foreclosing varied interpretations, Goy-Blanquet has not made clear the end at which she aims. Nevertheless, even granting her premonition that literary scholars will turn away from the kind of source-hunting they have convinced themselves is outdated, there remains the important audience ofthe actors and directors actually involved in staging any part of the tetralogy. For them the book is likely to become a treasure trove,offering a multitude ofchoices for establishing character and dramatic direction,while the constant references to past performances, the examples ofhowperformance might itselfilluminate the text, can only make its use more appealing to theater professionals. Fritz Levy University ofWashington Harry J. Elam, Jr. The Past as Present in the Drama ofAugust Wilson.AnnArbor: University ofMichigan Press,2004. Pp. xix + 271. $49.50. With a New York production scheduled for Spring 2005 of the final play in AugustWilson's ten-playdecade-by-decade cycle chroniclingAfrican-American life in the twentieth century, the time is certainly right for Harry J. Elam, Jr.'s outstanding study. According to Elam, Wilson's "singular commitment to exploring the experiences of African Americans over time has enabled him to delve into the particular, but also see the process of historic evolution" (xiv). The strength ofElam's work is his use of a similar staunchness to examine the ways each particular play dramatizes the past as time, history, memory, and ritual, while he also considers Wilson's work as a process of chronological development . Elam importantly suggests that Wilson's plays carry on a conversation with one another, while they build on a shared agenda (xv). Thus, Elam constructs his book around significant questions and crucial thematic issues that have evolved in Wilson's work, rather than structuring his study around specific plays (xv). For Elam, the core ofthese questions and issues at the center ofWilson's dramaturgy is an ongoing struggle over the nature of history, and Wilson's "idea that one can move forward into the future only by first going back" (xix). Reviews333 The distinctiveness and clarity ofdiis argument is revealed in"The Overture: 'To Disembark*." Elam positions Wilsons plays in the context of other AfricanAmerican writers and artists working during the 1980s and 1990s, such as the playwrights Suzan-Lori Parks and Robert O'Hara, as well as the novelist Toni Morrison and the visual artist Glen Ligon. Elam suggests that Wilson's cycle of plays is part of a battle over the nature of history in the 1980s and 1990s as "scholars and artists increasingly came to understand race as a social, political and historical construction" (x). The comparison ofWilson to a seemingly more nonrealistic playwright such as Parks is significant, and the importance of this historical relationship serves to emphasize that Wilson's cycle "does not happen in a vacuum" (ix), while also extending the scope of Wilson's dramatic realism. Central to this argument is that Wilson should not be considered a strictly realistic playwright and the elements of performance within his plays such as rituals, songs, and dances, move well beyond formal realism in a very specific African-American cultural context that is concerned with nontextual elements that are lost from traditional narratives. In the introduction "(W)righting History: A Meditation in Four Beats," Elam outlines the modes of historical consideration that forms the basis for Wilson's dramatic cycle. According to Elam,"Wilson (w)rights history through performative rites that pull the action out of time or even ritualize time in order to change the power and potentialities of the now" (3). For Elam, Wilson's "(w)righting history" is a dramaturgy that critiques the representation of the past and how it constructs meanings. The silent w becomes significant of "silence and contingency"of"AfricanAmerican narratives that have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 332-336
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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