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336Comparative Drama Ground on Which I Stand" in a cultural context to the black theater of the past, such as the BlackArts movement, and the climate of contemporary theatrical production practice, such as the regional theater movement, to explore the unique position that August Wilson has attained in the American theater. Ultimately, Elam provocatively suggests that Wilson's relationship to contemporary dramatic practice mirrors the overall project of his plays: "We must remember that not only is history a process but that Wilson's dramaturgy is in process, that even as he completes his twentieth century cycle, the past remains unstable, a place for renegotiated relations, a place for re-evolution" (231). Steve Feffer Western Michigan University Andrew Sofer. The Stage Life of Props. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2003. Pp. xviii + 278. $49.50 casebound; $19.95 paperbound. Anyone who has managed a show's props knows that the impossible challenges may turn out to be quite simple, while seemingly easy tasks can be hideously complex. When I directed a production of The Merry Wives ofWindsor, we were all quite certainthatbuilding abuck-basketbigenoughtoholdourFalstaff and carryhim offstagewas doomed.Then Falstaffhimselfattached a large canvas sack to a simple framework and cut two leg holes in it. Success! The wives carried it onstage,he climbed in and concealed himself, and—after the servants tried ineffectually once or twice to lift it—the sack sprouted legs, stood up, and ran merrily offstage. During the show,the bit never failed to get a laugh. Meanwhile the prop that should have been easy, the horns Falstaffwears as Heme the Hunter, proved terribly complicated. Someone had loaned us a small pair of antlers, and we spent hours, days, weeks figuring out how to secure them to Falstaff's head so that they were both visible and steady enough for him to act. We might have been thinking about the cultural meanings of the buck-basket and the horns, but in fact we were much more concerned with making sure Falstaff didn't drop an antler or put someone's eye out. Some members of the audience, trying to show me that they had paid attention in their literature classes,told me that horns were a sign ofcuckoldry, so perhaps our pragmatism had done little harm. Props do produce meaning in powerful cultural ways, although often without much help from the acting company. In The Stage Life ofProps, Andrew Sofer has written an analysis of the stage propertythatbeginswith an extended consideration ofwhat apropertyis Reviews337 and then offers five chapters explaining how specific properties work dramaturgically . Perhaps the best part of his book is his awareness that props do not convey meaning in a production in the same ways that they convey meaning in a study. His is a stage-centered analysis and is correspondingly richer than a study written by someone who has not had to block a scene or design the miseen -scène. The opening chapter presents an extended definition ofthe term prop and a discussion of its characteristics, a task (like providing props for a show) that sounds easy,but is not. The two examples I give in my opening paragraph illustrate the problems: Is the buck-basket a prop or stage furniture? And would the antlers be better categorized as costume or prop? Sofer defines a prop as "a discrete, material, inanimate object that is visibly manipulated by an actor in the course of performance" (11), which would suggest that the buck-basket was and the antlers were not (save for those performances when they threatened to fall off Falstaff's head and the actor had to hold them in place). Yet the idea ofthe prop is slippery:we certainly consideredthe antlers props and treated them as such; moreover, they operated in different ways for those audience members who identified them as suggesting cuckoldry and those who just thought they were odd headgear. Much ofSofer's first chapter is taken up with an intelligent analysis ofsuch problems as well as his solutions. (In fairness, I should point out that he cites some work I did on this subject and notes our disagreements.) Of particular interest is the final section in which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 336-338
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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