Jeremy Ekberg, in his work, The Myth of Identity in Modern Drama, tackles head on the question of identity—how it is formed, and how it is interpreted—through an analysis of character in dramatic literature. Focusing on Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, and Eugene Ionesco, Ekberg skillfully addresses each playwright's methods of metaphysical character embodiment. Expanding upon these findings with philosophies outside theatrical theory, Ekberg not only presents a unique method of script analysis that deals exclusively with the formation of character, but also suggests ambitious notions of real-world ontological processes of identity formation.
The introduction offers a strong survey of the interplay between theatre and philosophy. Ekberg's method focuses on studying a character's series of embodiments, or choices, to determine if the character is authentic or inauthentic—acting true to one's self or against one's nature. These authentic and inauthentic embodiments are made, respectively, without or with consideration of the "other"—and that balance is an interesting way of viewing and evaluating character-subjects. [End Page 167] For Ekberg, an authentic character is concerned only with his own needs, not the expectations of others, and is therefore able to achieve happiness. The process Ekberg suggests resembles traditional character analysis methods extolled by script analysis techniques, but Ekberg's methods differ from standard practice: "If we can comprehend that each character's identity is not identity at all but a series of embodiments, we can more thoroughly realize that identities are a myth, that what we once considered identities are conglomerations of embodiments chosen by the characters based on the needs of each moment and their own self-knowledge" (6-7). In this way, Ekberg eschews holistic representations of character, preferencing an ever-changing, ever-adapting set of choices called a "character."
In the second chapter, Ekberg begins his study by introducing Sartre's theory of inter- and intra-subject relations. Sartre asserts that subjects constantly remake themselves, a process of reifying embodiments in response to changing environments, both emotional and physical. Ekberg begins the work of deconstructing authentic and inauthentic embodiments by utilizing a simple Sartrean example of a café waiter, a metaphor that balances the authenticity of an embodiment with the subject's responsibility to others: being a waiter is an assumed role and not the subject's constant state; therefore it is the inauthentic state of an authentic subject. In the careful mapping of character embodiments in Sartre's No Exit, The Victors, and Kean, Ekberg finds a supportive home base for his own theory of embodied authenticity.
Ekberg's next subject, Beckett, roots his plays in the importance of the subject-other relationship. Where Sartre feels a subject should choose embodiments based solely on his own views, Beckett indicates through the pattern of pairs prevalent in his writings that a symbiotic relationship with an "other" is necessary to the survival of the subject. Beckett's characters must not only be, but be seen, to exist: "Each character is in need of a witness to confirm his identity" (99). The entire chapter is a useful example of mining dramatic literature and relevant criticism when working with an author that does not explain his work in theory. Unlike the conveniently didactic Sartre, Beckett's theoretical silence poses a challenge to which Ekberg handily rises, incorporating a postmodern reading to the works as well. Ekberg uses the texts Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and What Where, to establish an optimistic view of the "existence of the Two" that negates solipsism in favor of the symbiotic, and allows Ekberg to justify his theory of embodied authenticity with plural character-subjects.
The fourth chapter serves as a synthesis of the groundwork laid out in previous chapters. Ekberg focuses on and provides a quick overview of Ionesco's use of absurd language to depict an absurd world, and Ekberg relates this practice to the discourse between authenticity and inauthenticity. However, these works, The Lesson, Rhinoceros, and Victims of Duty, are populated by many capricious and fleeting characters who seem to borrow the language...