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JoAnne Akalaitis: Post Modern Director or Socio-Sexual Critic Andrea J. Noury eh JoAnne Akalaitis, one of the consistently important directors working in the American theatre, develops her art as a critical tool. By systematically covering each of her major productions, this study examines the unique directorial aesthetic of this winner of five Obies, a Drama Desk and the Rosamund Gilder Awards, began her directing career in 1975 with Mabou Mines, a company which she helped found in 1970. Her original pieces have been compared with the best performance art and her productions of Kroetz plays have been lauded for their harsh realism. Most noted in her eclectic style have been the atmospheric quality of her productions and her strong visual imagery. From the beginning, Akalaitis was not interested in serving as an intermediary between the audience and the script (Rabkin 61; Marranea 38). Rather she wanted to present the creative and personal responses which reading the script elicited from her. She began her directing career with a staging of Samuel Beckett's radio play, Cascando. His Opener became a derelict, his Voice became four men and a woman, his Music became a solo cello score composed by Philip Glass and performed on stage. The action took place in a room, more like an old ship's cabin, cluttered with objects from Akalaitis's Nova Scotia home. She added a silent prologue: seven performers were each engaged in a variety of repetitive activities—painting landscapes, knitting, soap carving, building a model ship, wiring a small machine, passing around photographs—ending with a careful construction of a house-of-cards. In keeping with the play's themes, each activity reflected the frustration and difficulties encountered in the creative process. The prologue stopped when the Opener began to speak. As the Voices alternated with Music, the audience heard the disjointed story of Woburn. Recitations overlapped, creating a rhythm of flowing words rather than meaning . The table levitated, a picture shifted on the wall, and the woman seemed to go into a "state combining possession, labor and sex" (Munk 113). Beckett's world created by language was thus replaced by Akalaitis's interpretation of that world, manifested primarily through visual stimuli. Akalaitis soon began writing her own scripts based on political and social issues that interested her. Drawn to book reviews, memoirs or diaries, and actual historical photographs and film footage (Bartow 3), she created the texts 177 178 Andrea J. Nouryeh for Dressed Like An Egg, an exploration about what it means to be female; Southern Exposure, a piece which contrasted our romantic notions about the Antarctic and brutal reality; and Dead End Kids, an examination of scientific knowledge and nuclear power. These were developed into performance scores during collaborative rehearsals with members of the Mabou Mines company. Dressed Like An Egg, produced in 1978, used Colette as the focus of the production without being biographical. Objects and scenes from Colette's life as well as her writings were used for their sensuousness and evocative qualities. Against a setting of abstract elements like various fabric curtains, a mylar rug, foot lights, colored gels, and shafts of light, Akalaitis created a series of disconnected tableaux: Colette leaning against parallel bars, a pantomime from her music hall days, a trapeze act, an opium den, a wedding dance, the seaside. Other references to her life were a real Victorian bathtub which took three minutes to fill with steaming water from a kettle, an inanimate replica of Toby Chien, her dog, and the red carnations from her wedding night. To add to the atmosphere, rose perfume was put on the back of the auditorium chairs before each performance. Although romanticism and femininity were at the core of the production (Fox 77), Akalaitis used several jarring elements to counteract their influence. For example, the image created by blowing the men's scarves in the beach scene with a wind machine was achieved by arresting the movement of blown fabric in sculptural form using celastic. Colette's dress, reminiscent of those worn at the end of the nineteenth century, was also of celastic and stood empty and disembodied upon the stage when it was abandoned by its wearer...


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pp. 177-191
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