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Reviewed by:
  • Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works
  • Annika C. Speer (bio)
Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works. Edited by Sharon Friedman. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2009; 290 pp., $45.00 paper.

Revisioning. Reframing. Reinterpreting. The "re" misleads, as works created by theatrical practitioners in this collection do not reiterate classical texts; rather they challenge, expose, de-authorize, and subvert the authority of a canon embedded within patriarchal codes. Feminist Theatrical Revisions of Classic Works, a collection of essays edited and introduced by Sharon Friedman, examines theatrical expression as a vehicle for feminist, historical, and cultural discourse. [End Page 232] Exploring this ambitious topic, Friedman's introduction offers a brief but relevant overview of variations in feminist theory and theatrical styles, narrowing the scope to theatre practitioners and works produced in the United States, Canada, and England since 1980. Although there is often a perceived divide between practical and theoretical, Friedman's collection provides salient examples of the hybrid: the creative as criticism.

Noteworthy are the infinite possibilities the classics offer and the myriad feminist (re)visions and commentary that take shape, as exemplified in essays by Andrea Nouryeh and Carol Martin. Nouryeh articulates Mary Zimmerman's collaborative process as a feminist method for creating theatre, likening it to an "archeological dig" (73), a fitting metaphor since Zimmerman mines Ovid's Metamorphoses, favoring tales of heroic women and eschewing stories of rape or violence.

Similarly, Martin analyzes Antigone Project, noting parallels between the theatrical pieces, Greek tragedy, and overarching feminist missions. She explicates the feminist conundrum that simultaneously seeks collective power and individual allowances: "feminism is very much like modern adaptations of Antigone: it is devoted to the individual voice, which always acts in the context of the collective history" (90).

Friedman herself investigates the critical societal commentary Paula Vogel, Ann-Marie MacDonald, and Djanet Sears produce in their innovative reworkings of Othello. The playwrights utilize feminist theory as well as literary criticism when drawing on the classics to expose the "high cost of patriarchal values" (113). Reworkings and repetition involve artists and audiences alike, and, particularly with the classical canon, "the repetition can be 'oppositional'" (115). Dialoguing theory with examples from the scripts, Friedman catalogues how these artists "disarticulate the past" (115), undermining the familiar and its ideologies. Johan Callens provides similar observations of resemblance as menace, noting the Wooster Group's staging, which connotes "Irigaray's mimicry or repetition with a difference, through which female agency and subjecthood are reclaimed" (162).

Several essays examine adaptations of classical works by female authors' that are already feminist texts. Although laudable, these essays drift from the theme of feminist revisioning. While Chiori Miyagawa's essay and theatrical (re)visioning of Chopin's novel, The Awakening, are unique works, the essay's placement seems to contrast the edition's focus: applying a feminist lens to classical works that have arguably elided it. Sandee McGlaun's look at SITI Company's theatrical version of Woolf's A Room of One's Own, and Kristin Crouch's commentary on Shared Experience Theatre's adaptation of Bronte's Jane Eyre find a similarly imperfect fit with the book's focus. Organization aside, these essays are excellent reads, particularly in their attention to theatrical staging.

The pleasure of Friedman's collection is the palimpsestic layering of individual voices, starting with the familiar canon and overwritten by theatre artists and scholars. The overwriting of the classical texts and the subsequent undermining through theatrical staging occurs in various styles ranging from cross-gender casting, in Lesley Ferris's essay which discusses female Lears, to taunting parody, as exhibited in Deborah Geis's analysis of Belle Reprieve, Split Britches' version of Streetcar Named Desire. Geis notes the "multiply visible texts" arguing the spectators' desires resemble the characters', "mocked, mimicked, brought to the surface, and rendered both familiar and strange" (245). Making the familiar strange is a tactic many of these artists employ, through casting choices, juxtapositions, or inventive mise-en-scénes. Julie Malnig articulates how Women's Experimental Theatre "combines humor with biting political critique" as the actor portraying Electra literally tallies Greek legends' violent actions against women to the chimes of a tambourine and a musical triangle...


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pp. 232-234
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