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  • Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works
  • Candace M. Joice
Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works. Edited by Sharon Friedman. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009; pp. x + 290. $45.00 paper.

In her introduction to Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works, Sharon Friedman observes that theatrical productions of canonical dramatic and literary works have become mainstays of feminist theatre. This marriage seems unlikely: classic works are almost unfailingly uniform in their portrayals of women as weak, subservient, and docile; the female characters who break these molds are usually punished, reformed, or derided. Friedman’s collection of essays provides analyses of feminist re-presentations of some of the classics that most trouble feminist audiences, revealing how feminist artists have challenged the conventional portrayal of women in these texts.

Friedman’s work, however, is not merely comprised of extended critical descriptions of a few select productions; instead, the essays aspire to a greater purpose: prompting artists to reconsider the canon as a rich source of dialogue, rather than apologizing for the works’ sometimes antiquated and socially irrelevant or even offensive content. Each essay first identifies a production that examined issues of importance to a contemporary feminist audience, and then seeks to “illustrate the significance of historical moment, cultural ideology, dramaturgical practice, and theatrical venue for shaping a revisionist interpretation of a classic text” (3).

In her introduction, Friedman wisely acknowledges that feminist theory is diverse and constantly evolving. Her history of feminist theory and postmodern ideas and styles is perhaps too brief for a book that strives to capture what she admits is a spectrum of often “contested and unstable” feminist theories, but nonetheless provides a framework for the subsequent essays (3).

Arranged chronologically by original source material, the book is divided into four parts. The first part focuses on productions of classical plays and dramatization of myths. Julie Malnig compares two seminal feminist productions based on the Orestia—the Women’s Experimental Theatre’s Electra Speaks (1980) and Ellen McLaughlin’s Iphigenia and Other Daughters (1995)—examining how each was influenced significantly by the objectives and climate of the decade in which it was produced. Mary Roth examines playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker’s use of ancient myth as a tool to discuss global issues, including gender violence. Andrea Nouryeh explores Mary Zimmerman’s production of Metamorphoses (1998) as staged at Second Stage Theatre in New York, revealing it to be a production rich with the female voice, both in the collaborative process and in storytelling. Carol Martin’s essay is an analysis of Antigone Project (2004), which told Antigone’s story in five different ways, each corresponding to twentieth-century issues.

The second part of the book focuses on seventeenth-century theatre, beginning with Lesley Ferris’s analysis of two productions of a revised King Lear. Ferris points out that the first, the Women’s Theatre Group’s 1987 production of Lear’s Daughters, attempted to give more voice to the actress, while the second, Mabou Mines’s 1990 production with a matriarchal Lear, sought to give voice to its re-visioned female characters. Sharon Friedman’s essay looks at three productions in which the retelling of the story of Desdemona benefited from feminist theory and practice. Cheryl Black discusses Joanne Akalaitis’s productions of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Rover, and Phaedra, while Johan Callen takes on the Wooster Group’s 2001 production of the Phaedra story, To You, The Birdie! [End Page 138]

Part 3 treats adaptations of novels and essays of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Lenora Champagne compares plays based upon The Scarlet Letter written by Phyllis Nagy, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Naomi Wallace. Kristin Courch explores Shared Experience Theatre’s inventive production of Jane Eyre in which the title character has real freedom to express her captive passion and complexity. Playwright Chiori Miyagawa provides a reflective exploration of her own process in adapting Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, and Sandee McGlaun analyzes performances of essays and novels written by Virginia Woolf.

Finally, part 4 addresses modern drama as produced in the postmodern theatre, beginning with Deborah Geis’s analysis of queer and lesbian theory in relation to A Streetcar Named Desire. Amy Green uses...


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pp. 138-139
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