restricted access Hamlet and the Baker's Son: My Life in Theatre and Politics by Augusto Boal (review)
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Reviews 479 In calling for new evaluative paradigms that "allow for the possibility of multiple instead of uniform universal standards of artistic excellence" (255), van Erven notes the importance of work by Australian cultural studies scholars such as Gay Hawkins and Sneja Gunew. Hawkins's argument (as expressed by van Erven) is that "community art, just as any other cultural practice, operates according to its own aesthetics and should not be evaluated according to standards that are actually alien to it" (252). Gunew calls for "a redefinition of 'excellence' as something more than form, something that also entails cultural content, social relevance, of being at the cultural cutting edge, of asking the aesthetic questions of our time in new and invigorating ways" (qtd. in van Erven 255). Finally, van Erven's book makes an implicit argument that exploring the full potential of community theatre requires collaboration between arts organizations, academics, and practitioners in order to recognize and "to accept that great art can indeed also be created in African villages or migrant enclaves in western cities" (255). AUGUSTO BOAL. Hamlet and the Baker's Son: My Life in Theatre and Politics. Trans. Adrian Jackson and Candida Blaker. London: Routledge, 2001. Pp. 366, illustrated. $85.00 (Hb); $25.95 (Pb). Reviewed by Brian Smith, University ofCalgmy Augusto Baal's autobiography, Hamlet and the Baker's Son: My Life in TheĀ· atre and Politics, begins and ends with a face in a mirror. The first face is of a weeping housemaid who, having just participated in a theatre performance, sees herself for the first time as a woman rather than a servant. The second is the astonished face of Baal, who, regarding his own image in the glass, awakens to the strange imperative of being alive. These mirror images, revealing the obverse of the subjects as they are apprehended in life by others, function as metaphors for the theatre Boal believes in: "the place where we can stand and see ourselves. Not see what others tell us we are, or should be - but see our deepest selves" (x). Written at the urging of a friend and publisher, Talia Rodgers, who argued they would contribute to a better understanding of his theatre, Boal's memoirs are more kaleidoscope than mirror. Like a character from Beckett's fiction, for whom only a small part of what is said can be verified , Boal rejects the idea of the "whole truth" and the "cold truth" and fashions instead a polyvalent work in which "memory and imagination are inseparable" (xv). Hamlet and the Baker's Son is a glancing, exuberant, poetic book that is bound to disappoint and frustrate those expecting a singular account of the evolution of Baal's political theatre. It offers instead a deeply personal reflection on the author's artistic and political genesis, which, in REVIEWS accordance with Boal's assertion that all artists must be mad, is maddeningly oblique and circuitous. Like its title, Hamlet and the Baker's SOil speaks of a man divided: Boal is both writer and director; observer and activist; artist and teacher; creature of solitude and man of the people; mirth and earnest. As if to deny the continuity of the ego, Boal thinks in bursts and interruptions, composing his memoried text as a montage of episodes, the arrangement and titling of which seem to emphasize their deliberate disconnection from one another. A pair of disjointed narratives, promised by the book's subtitle, thread though the sprawling mass of broken incidents and blurred chronology. One of these is the wide-ranging account of Boal's artistic development, principally through his fifteen-year association with the Arena Theatre of Sao Paulo from 1956 until his exile from Brazil in [971. This is a story replete with telling details and surprising revelations: Boal's transformation from writer to director at the Arena Theatre; his reverence for Stanislavski; his love of the classics (and obsession with Hamlet); his participation in the struggle to liberate Brazilian theatre from the stranglehold of colonialism and censorship; his tireless experimentation . The second narrative is political, framed by the years of military rule between [964 and [985, during which Boal suffered harassment, imprisonment , torture, and...