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Oedipus Rex is the greatest of the Greek tragedies, a profound meditation on the human condition. The story of the mythological king, who is doomed to kill his father and marry his mother, has resonated in world culture for almost 2,500 years. But Sophocles’ drama as originally performed was much more than a great story—it was a superb poetic script and exciting theatrical experience. The actors spoke in pulsing rhythms with hypnotic forward momentum, making it hard for audiences to look away. Interspersed among the verbal rants and duels were energetic songs performed by the chorus.
The Premier Stage for African American Drama
Penumbra Theatre Company was founded in 1976 by Lou Bellamy as a venue for African American voices within the Twin Cities theatre scene and has stood for more than thirty-five years at the intersection of art, culture, politics, and local community engagement. It has helped launch the careers of many internationally respected theatre artists and has been repeatedly recognized for its artistic excellence as the nation’s foremost African American theatre.
Penumbra is the first-ever history of this barrier-breaking institution. Based on extensive interviews with actors, directors, playwrights, producers, funders, and critics, Macelle Mahala’s book offers a multifaceted view of the theatre and its evolution. Penumbra follows the company’s emergence from the influential Black Arts and settlement house movements; the pivotal role Penumbra played in the development of August Wilson’s career and, in turn, how Wilson became an avid supporter and advocate throughout his life; the annual production of Black Nativity as a community-building performance; and the difficult economics of African American theatre production and how Penumbra has faced these challenges for nearly four decades.
Penumbra is a testament to how a theatre can respond to and thrive within changing political and cultural realities while contributing on a national scale to the African American presence on the American stage. It is a celebration of theatre as a means of social and cultural involvement—both local and national—and ultimately, of Penumbra’s continuing legacy of theatre that is vibrant, diverse, and vital.
Two Plays of Captivity
Best known today as the author of Don Quixote—one of the most beloved and widely read novels in the Western tradition—Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616) was a poet and a playwright as well. After some early successes on the Madrid stage in the 1580s, his theatrical career was interrupted by other literary efforts. Yet, eager to prove himself as a playwright, shortly before his death he published a collection of his later plays before they were ever performed.
With their depiction of captives in North Africa and at the Ottoman court, two of these, "The Bagnios of Algiers" and "The Great Sultana," draw heavily on Cervantes's own experiences as a captive, and echo important episodes in Don Quixote. They are set in a Mediterranean world where Spain and its Muslim neighbors clashed repeatedly while still remaining in close contact, with merchants, exiles, captives, soldiers, and renegades frequently crossing over between the two sides. The plays provide revealing insights into Spain's complex perception of the world of Mediterranean Islam.
Despite their considerable literary and historical interest, these two plays have never before been translated into English. This edition presents them along with an introductory essay that places them in the context of Cervantes's drama, the early modern stage, and the political and cultural relations between Christianity and Islam in the early modern period.
In Nzarayaperaís village, famine and hunger strike as rain could not fall. The sky remains blue with scorching heat that leaves no creature desiring to move on with life. Chief Nzarayapera and his councillors believe this scourge is a curse from the ancestors. They think of holding a ceremony to mollify the ancestors and petition rain. The ceremony is held, but nothing happens except that hunger and famine strike even harder. This sets a fertile ground for conflict between traditionalists, Christians and scientists who lay blame on one another and take turns to intercede for the people. What comes out of this conflict only requires you to read Rain Petitioning for yourself. Equally there to awaken your curiosity is Step Child, the second play in this collection.
The Russian Joke in Cultural Context
In his original new study, Seth Graham analyzes a rich and forgotten vein of humor in an otherwise bleak environment. The late Soviet period (1961–1986) hardly seems fertile ground for humor, but Russian jokes (anekdoty) about life in the Soviet Union were ubiquitous. The cultural and political relaxation in the decade following Stalin’s death produced considerable optimism among Soviet citizens. The anekdot exploited and exposed what Graham calls "Soviet diglossia" (official Sovietese vs. Russian everyday language) and emphasized the distance between official myths and quotidian reality. Jokes engaged a range of official and popular culture genres and also worked meta textually, referring to the political consequences of jokes. While the dissidents of this period, who stressed the heroic and opposed everything Soviet, have been much written about, Graham’s work on the anekdoty—written in the third person, ironic, and engaged with everything Soviet—fills a hole that has been overlooked in cultural history.
Actresses, Performance, and the Eighteenth-Century British Theater
In eighteenth-century England, actresses were frequently dismissed as mere prostitutes trading on their sexual power rather than their talents. Yet they were, Felicity Nussbaum argues, central to the success of a newly commercial theater. Urban, recently moneyed, and thoroughly engaged with their audiences, celebrated actresses were among the first women to achieve social mobility, cultural authority, and financial independence. In fact, Nussbaum contends, the eighteenth century might well be called the "age of the actress" in the British theater, given women's influence on the dramatic repertory and, through it, on the definition of femininity.
Treating individual star actresses who helped spark a cult of celebrity—especially Anne Oldfield, Susannah Cibber, Catherine Clive, Margaret Woffington, Frances Abington, and George Anne Bellamy—Rival Queens reveals the way these women animated issues of national identity, property, patronage, and fashion in the context of their dramatic performances. Actresses intentionally heightened their commercial appeal by catapulting the rivalries among themselves to center stage. They also boldly rivaled in importance the actor-managers who have long dominated eighteenth-century theater history and criticism. Felicity Nussbaum combines an emphasis on the celebrated actresses themselves with close analysis of their diverse roles in works by major playwrights, including George Farquhar, Nicholas Rowe, Colley Cibber, Arthur Murphy, David Garrick, Isaac Bickerstaff, and Richard Sheridan. Hers is a comprehensive and original argument about the importance of actresses as the first modern subjects, actively shaping their public identities to make themselves into celebrated properties.
The Politics of Response in the Middle English Religious Drama
Offering a unique historical perspective to the study of medieval English drama, Heather Hill-Vásquez in Sacred Players argues that different treatments of audience and performance in the early drama indicate that the performance life of the drama may have continued well beyond its traditional placement in medieval history and into the Reformation and Renaissance eras.
Romanticism and the Lost Voice
“The theatre scholar’s daunting but irresistible quest to recover some echoes of performance of the past has never been more engagingly presented than in Pascoe’s account of tracing the long-silenced voice of Sarah Siddons. Her report is a warm, witty, and highly informative exploration of the methodology and the pleasures of historical research.” —Marvin Carlson, author of The Haunted Stage: The Theatre as Memory Machine During her lifetime (1755–1831), English actress Sarah Siddons was an international celebrity acclaimed for her performances of tragic heroines. We know what she looked like—an endless number of artists asked her to sit for portraits and sculptures—but what of her famous voice, reported to cause audiences to hyperventilate or faint? In The Sarah Siddons Audio Files, Judith Pascoe takes readers on a journey to discover how the actor’s voice actually sounded. In lively and engaging prose, Pascoe retraces her quixotic search, which leads her to enroll in a “Voice for Actors” class, to collect Lady Macbeth voice prints, and to listen more carefully to the soundscape of her life. Bringing together archival discoveries, sound recording history, and media theory, Pascoe shows how romantic poets’ preoccupation with voices is linked to a larger cultural anxiety about the voice’s ephemerality. The Sarah Siddons Audio Files contributes to a growing body of work on the fascinating history of sound and will engage a broad audience interested in how recording technology has altered human experience.
The future of the country in Searching for Bate Besong is compromised by irresponsible leadership, falsehoods, blind tyranny, waste, and lawlessness. Visionaries like Dockinta (a literary incarnation of Bate Besong, one of Cameroonís most fiery and revolutionary authors) who try to question or expose the status-quo are incarcerated and tortured by the brute forces of dictatorship. It however only needs the strong will and audacity, the messianic self-sacrifice and determination (which are the values Dockinta incarnates), to expose, ridicule and destroy power drunkenness. This play is sine qua non to searching for the collective memory of a community marginalized and subjugated by successive regimes of exploitation and repression. It promises the rediscovery of the dignity and destiny of an active volcano wrongfully rendered docile. The Search will liberate a people who agonized from the whips by the Germans, the hypocrisy of the British, the outright exploitation of the French and the eternal domination of La Republique du Cameroun. The search will culminate in liberating not only Cameroonians, but Africa from corruption, nepotism, tribalism, organized crime, wars and the abuse of basic human rights and freedoms.
The Plays of Philip Barry from Paris Bound to The Philadelphia Story
In Shadowed Cocktails, Donald Anderson questions the traditional characterization of playwright Philip Barry's work. Anderson looks closely at the films based on his plays and the variations between the plays and the film adaptations. The book includes a play chronology.