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  • Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies
  • Kimberly Jannarone (bio)
Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies. Edited by James M. Harding and Cindy Rosenthal. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006; 464 pp.; illustrations. $75.00 cloth, $35.00 paper.

While a number of in-depth studies on individual radical theatres are in print, very few publications provide a synoptic view of the major American group theaters in a single work. Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies fills this gap. James M. Harding and Cindy Rosenthal commissioned 16 original essays by preeminent scholars in the field on eight "radical collective theaters" (3) that were active in the 1960s and '70s and dedicated three chapters to each group, offering a brief historical introduction (by the editors), a critical discussion, and an examination of the movement's legacy. The result is a clear and engaging anthology that will be an invaluable text for introductory studies of experimental theatre. The book also speaks to more advanced scholars, as the era's politics, aesthetics, experiments with community, utopian ideals, and theatrical innovations emerge in complex historiographical dimensions through a panoply of theoretically informed and vibrantly written essays.

Restaging the Sixties covers the Living Theatre, the Open Theater, The Performance Group, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, El Teatro Campesino, At the Foot of the Mountain, the Free Southern Theater, and Bread and Puppet Theater. The introductory chapters concisely establish the key players, basic timeline, and major performances of each group. They prepare us for the kaleidoscopic vision that unfolds as the subsequent essays engage with recurrent themes and tensions, including the problematic definitions of the terms "radical" and "collective." The notion of collectivity is addressed explicitly in the authors' frequent confrontations with the groups' challenges in negotiating between the ideal of collectivity and the presence and pull of authoritarian or charismatic leaders; between the desire for the inclusiveness of group-written scripts and the advantages of a single author; between the rejection of norms, the use of the past, and the establishment of a new order. "Radical" most often indicates progressive political [End Page 185] engagement, but it also embraces the extreme formal and psychological experimentation of the Open Theatre and The Performance Group. Radicalism itself, then, comes under scrutiny in the essays' examinations of the connections—and lack of connections—between radical aesthetics and radical politics; of the frequently competing concerns of political efficacy and personal expression; and of the periodic frustration of trying to balance professionalism, commercialism, and idealism.

The critical essays address these thematic overlaps through a variety of approaches, and this diversity is a major strength of the book. Yolanda Broyles-Gonzales on El Teatro Campesino and Claudia Orenstein on the Mime Troupe both effectively argue that extant popular performance styles and practices provided essential formal structures—including improvisation, "poor" theatre, itinerancy, non–text-based pieces, and collective living—that the groups adapted to achieve their political goal of effecting change in "social and political institutions […] from below" (194). Annemarie Bean deftly demonstrates how a collective structure proved both literally and aesthetically essential to the Free Southern Theater's survival, occupying as it did a dangerously singular position as an integrated theatre company touring Mississippi, while politically situated between the Southern Civil Rights Movement and the Northern Black Arts Movement, which forced it to create its own "mytholog[y] around the ideas of black integration and black power" (270). Erika Munk's and Sonja Kuftinec's essays vividly deploy firsthand descriptions of the alternating skepticism and fervent sympathy that the Living Theatre and Bread and Puppet performances (respectively) provoked as essential tools to analyze the theatres' search for an ideal audience/performer relationship.

The legacy chapters that conclude each section, far from being simple lists of theatrical inheritors, make, as a whole, an important point: Even though most of these movements now exist only in the past tense, we don't have to believe, as the editors point out, that history actually progresses in order to think that their study has implications for the future. The book's reach into related contemporary performance and politics has the effect of illustrating a possibility articulated by...


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pp. 185-187
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