- Stages of Conflict: A Critical Anthology of Latin American Theater and Performance
Rather than providing a comprehensive study of the stage in such a vast and diverse region throughout various historical stages—a task that the editors acknowledge would be impossible to achieve in a single volume—Stages of Conflict does justice to both the pun and the promise contained in its title. The first English-language critical panorama of Latin American theatre that spans history from the Conquest to the present, this anthology of plays constitutes a crucial step in developing this area of study. To manage a project of such a scope, Diana Taylor and Sarah Townsend focus on “the ways in which [theatrical and performative] practices take part in struggles involving wide disparities in power” (xii). They recognize that their selection criteria provide only one possible mapping, yet it proves highly productive, given the shared histories of colonization, slavery, authoritarianism, and state-sponsored terrorism that caused such inequality throughout the region. While acknowledging that the archive from which they draw was itself produced by asymmetrical relations and that any collection of such range will always be partial, they present nineteen plays/performance texts—ten of which have not previously been translated into English. These works, originally written in Spanish, Portuguese, Quechua, Quiché, or Nahuatl, come from ten out of the twenty-six Latin American nations, including the part of Mexico annexed by force by the United States. They are presented more or less chronologically in an attempt to represent various “stages of conflict,” in both the temporal and theatrical senses of the words. The anthology includes genres as varied as Conquest drama, mystery play, comedy of manners, popular-, itinerant-, and modern- and postmodern theatre, as well as solo performance and contemporary indigenous theatre. Through these texts and the critical essays that introduce them, we learn how their performances staged struggles over identity, place, sovereignty, and human rights, in addition to gender-, class-, and racial equality.
Reminding us that “what we commonly designate as ‘theatre’ is itself an aesthetic construct that creates exclusions and often writes its own popular antecedents out of history” (12), the introduction provides a rich historical overview of theatrical practices across Latin America over the past five centuries. The critical essays preceding each work situate their analysis within the play’s sociopolitical background, while often highlighting its place in the theatrical history of the nation and within a transnational context. Some essays also focus on other issues, such as staging (Final Judgment, sixteenth century), casting choices (The Jealous Officer, 1845), censorship (Personal Belongings, 1975), reception (Night of the Assassins, 1965), intentionality (The Demon’s Nun, 2003), and translation (Los Comanches, 1850s). Also, in regards to translation, the inclusion of Conquest dramas highlights the instability of texts and raises important debates about authenticity and authorship. Other essays provide author biographies as in the case of Luisa Capetillo (1879–1922), a Puerto Rican feminist anarchist “more famous for her offstage activities” than the proletarian art she presented (136).
The editors’ compelling essays also describe issues ranging from the ways in which social hierarchies were reflected in seating areas, to how performance traditions migrated from the metropolis to the colonies, as well as across genres, types of audience, and contested national borders. The essays explore the semiotic shifts that occur with these migrations, as the tensions between archive and repertoire are played out in performance. We are reminded, for instance, of how European mystery plays became sixteenth-century missionary theatre in service of catechism and colonization. But we also learn how the repertoires of the indigenous and the African [End Page 499] peoples who performed in these plays often destabilized their didactic function.
Yet another connotation of stages is the travels of particular works over time. Whether we are reading the Mayan dance drama Rabinal Achi, transcribed in the nineteenth century (whose origins are generally attributed to the fifteenth century, but could predate the Conquest, and that...