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  • Drama
  • Dorothy Chansky

No major trends stand out in this year's scholarship on American drama, although an interest in the Progressive Era is manifest in several books. Despite a plenitude of articles and books, there is still no major monograph on either Suzan-Lori Parks or Wendy Wasserstein. Yet, as Alexis Soloski has pointed out, we live in a very good time for playwrights, and not just those of the O'Neill/Miller/Williams sort who emphasize plot and character. Rather, Soloski sees an explosion of creativity among the heirs of Gertrude Stein—including Maria Irene Fórnes, Parks, and Richard Forman—who "question the very devices and means by which we create theater." Some of those on her list were showcased in New Downtown Now (see AmLS 2006, pp. 439–40). Others include Adam Bock, Rinne Groff, Noah Haidle, Rob Handel, Jordan Harrison, Jenny Schwartz, Sarah Ruhl, Anne Washburn, Young Jean Lee, and Parks. The last two make appearances below. Each of the others comprise, as my adviser was fond of saying, "a dissertation waiting to happen."

Despite an absence of overriding concerns, there was a bumper crop of essays and books, so I invited two colleagues from the American Theatre and Drama Society, Jonathan Chambers and Judith Sebesta, to share with me the pleasurable duties of reporting on important new work.

i Playwrights

More articles were published on Parks than on any other playwright except O'Neill, Miller, and Williams, and Suzan-Lori Parks: A Casebook, ed. Kevin J. Wetmore Jr. and Alycia Smith-Howard (Routledge), is the first full-length book devoted to her. The sure-handed study features [End Page 437] eight essays and an interview. Four are notable: Harvey Young's contribution analyzes the choruses as characters in In the Blood and Venus (pp. 29–47). Shawn-Marie Garrett offers an insightful reading of the often-overlooked Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom (pp. 1–17). Len Berkman's "Language as Protagonist in In the Blood" (pp. 61–72) goes beyond the usual interest in Parks's vernacular and orthographic playfulness to focus on how language itself constructs reality (not realism) in the play. Berkman groups Parks with Peter Handke, Wole Soyinka, and Marguerite Duras for her "multilayered concern with information-learning, with word and sound as experience . . . [as well as for her attention] to the event, shock, and bleeding of words; and to the shaping and tensions of word absence." Andrea Goto's boldly original essay (pp. 106–23) negotiates the intricacies of Parks's insistence that blackness and black experiences should not be essentialized and that positive as well as negative stereotypes are limiting and depersonalizing. Parks works instead with a "mutable blackness" that problematizes race.

Individual essays on Parks's work were abundant. One of the most original and highly usable is Sun Hee Theresa Lee's "Unnatural Conception: (Per)Forming History and Historical Subjectivity in Suzan-Lori Parks's The America Play and Venus" (JADT 19, i: 5–31), which shows how these plays pursue opposite but complementary ideas of the ways in which the artificial construct(s) called history (really historiography) either erase or fictionalize blacks from the past, thereby doing the same to those in the present. The America Play's Foundling Father is divorced from history except to the extent that he can impersonate its myths. Venus's Saartjie Baartman has been integrated into history but via a falsifying discourse. The America Play asks how an individual who is denied his/her place in history may find a historical subjecthood without being subsumed by it. Venus shows such a subsumed subject (the main character is "hypnotized by money [and] the economics of colonialism"). In "The Money Shot: Economies of Sex, Guns, and Language in Topdog/Underdog" (MD 50: 77–97) Myka Tucker-Abramson offers a stunning Lacanian reading of the postmodern situation in which the two characters in this play find themselves. Tucker-Abramson embraces Fredric Jameson's ideas about late capitalism and sees them everywhere at work in Topdog. Signs (primarily language) have been unhinged from any "real," thereby stripping history of its actual content and legitimizing the systemic racism and definitions of masculinity that trap...


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