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  • Cast Out: Queer Lives in the Theater
  • Laurence Senelick
Cast Out: Queer Lives in the Theater. Edited by Robin Bernstein. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006. Pp. 232. $22.95 (paper).

Cast Out is a miscellany of pieces by persons connected in one way or another with queer, gay, or transsexual theater over the past couple of decades. Their statements provide "personal accounts and documents of galvanizing queer communities through theatre" (12). The unifying theme seems to be the interwoven nature of an individual's life and art: the queerness of one's being is enacted in performance, while the queerness of the performance is guaranteed by the predilections and personality of the artist. The contradictions that run like fissures through this concept surface in the title. The tortuous pun is meant to suggest that the performers and playwrights in this collection garner play roles that proudly announce their homosexuality and express their selfhood in their onstage personae. At the same time there is the inevitable connotation of outcast or pariah, perpetuating the notion of the sexually unorthodox as a marginal victim. As the blurb puts it, this latter distinction "dispel[s] the cliché of theater as a 'safe haven'" (back matter).

Similar ambivalences can also be discerned in the foreword by Jill Dolan and the introduction by the editor, Robin Bernstein. Both academics, Dolan and Bernstein are keenly aware of the glut of theorizing about gender and performance that has circulated for the past twenty-five years and tread their way carefully through the minefield of contested claims. Although Dolan's piece is chiefly autobiographical, mostly about her early forays into theater, she is cautious not to dismiss the scholarly debate as irrelevant to the act of performance. Her empirical experience leads her to distrust blanket statements, but even she is haunted by the need to be politically correct. For instance, mentioning a play about tolerance she wrote in school, she regrets: "I'm ashamed to recall that my friend wore dark makeup to approximate the African American girl's skin color," for this "implicated [me] in racist [End Page 340] blackface performance traditions" (vi). There is a kind of historical myopia here, an inability to recognize the value and significance of those same traditions, no matter how repugnant to current prejudices.

Still, Dolan is clear-sighted enough to state, if only in a note, that "although the notion of presence has fallen into disrepute under postmodernist and feminist theorizing, I remain attached to the charisma of the performer as a potentially transformative, political experience in performance" (xii, n3). Certain ineffable qualities (some of which—glamour, charisma, good timing—Joseph Roach has recently discussed in his study of "It") elude analysis.1 Dolan refuses to intellectualize away the erotic element: "At the theater, I learned about desire. The playhouse created around me a protective sphere" (vii). This sentiment is echoed by Bernstein, who relates that the influential lesbian group Split Britches came into being when Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw, members of separate troupes, met and fell in love (5). The following essays regularly trace the intersection of sex and theater, although one wishes there were more on the audience's projection of desire onto the performer.

For Bernstein, this erotic bond is the crux in defining the term queer in relation to theater people. She is dissatisfied with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's use of queer as an umbrella term for off-beat and prefers to preserve a vision of multiplicity: diversity, difference, and disagreement. Bernstein also rejects the two main narratives in recent writing on queerness: one traces "a progressive evolution towards a jubilantly queer or a disenchantedly postgay present. The second centers and analyzes the production and flow of meanings, identities and practices of daily life" (12). Both represent an antiessentialism that suggests that "queerness is available—equally available—to all. . . . This democratization of queerness can sever, or at least trivialize, historical connections between the idea of 'queerness' and the bodies of people who relate erotically to members of the same sex" (15). Bernstein therefore prefers to reclaim "queerness" for what is usually termed the LGBT community.

Most of the practitioners who contribute to...


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pp. 340-343
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