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The Trope of Transformation in Medea: A Noh Cycle Loren Edelson Since the rise of feminism in the United States in the 1960s, cultural and materialist feminist theater playwrights have actively searched for newliterary and theatrical forms that transcend the patriarchal strictures ofrealism.1 As Jill Dolan suggested more than a decade ago in The Feminist Critic as Spectator, realism is ultimately a limited form for advancing political and social change.2 In its presentation of "a slice of life," realism often perpetuates degrading and static female stereotypes. Even a "female mimesis," championed by cultural feminists, in which "productions can mirror female content through female forms," Dolan argues,often reinscribes the binarybetween gender and sex.3 Moreover, even though cultural feminist theaterpractitioners have often embraced nonrealist forms, such as l'écriturefeminine, they ultimately value biology as the overriding criterion for unifying all women. As a result, cultural feminist theater reifies women's primary roles in society as mothers, daughters,wives,sisters,and caregivers.Materialist feminism,on the other hand, looks at "women as a class oppressed by material conditions and social relations."4 Rather than linking sex and gender together, a materialist approach denaturalizes gender in order to show how society has constructed specific social roles for both men and women. Traditional Japanese theater forms—gigaku, nô,kyôgen, bunraku,and kabuki—have long prioritized stylization over realism in performance.5 Paradoxically, their long history of all-male authorship and all-male performers has contributed to the notion that these theater forms are inherently sexist. Yet, since the 1960s, theater practitioners have drawn onthesetraditionalforms to rediscoverfeminineandfeministmessages.6 In this essay, I discuss one ofthese experiments: Carol Sorgenfreie 1975 59 60Comparative Drama work Medea: A Noh Cycle Based on the Greek Myth.7 By rejecting mimetic realism and drawing on the highly stylized no, Sorgenfrei has crafted aplaythat is politicallyengaged in order to expose the constructed nature of everyday lived experience and to present a number of viewpoints .8 By adhering to the structure of no, Sorgenfrei creates a world where time, place, and gender are transcended in favor of larger-thanlife emotions and issues. As she explicitly states in her title Medea: A Noh Cycle Based on the Greek Myth, Sorgenfrei's work is not so much a singular no play as a no cycle of five plays. The "cycle" refers to the manner in which no plays were performed until recently.9While no performances todayreflectthe short attention span ofcontemporary audiences,performances—as they came to be codified during the Tokugawa period (1603-1867)—consisted offive different plays, thematically based, in order, on the following five categories: God,Warrior, Woman, Frenzy (and miscellaneous), and Demon .10 Each play was individually written and performed to embody Zeami's requisitejo-ha-kyû [prelude (jo), development (ha),finale (kyû)] developmental structure, and the plays performed as a whole worked to conveyjo-ha-kyû, so that with the final demon play an all-day performance would end with a riveting climax.11 As a whole, the five plays were usually thematicallyunrelated,though it is possible that one or two of the plays performed in the day-long five-play cycle may have been related, such as Aoi no Ue (Lady Aoi) and Nonomiya (The Shrine in the Fields),two plays taken from The Tale ofGenji.12 In a departure from the standard dramaturgy, however, Sorgenfrei develops the Medea myth through her play's five scenes, which progress through the different traditional categories despite the thematic linkage. In this way, she entitles her first scene "God Play," the second "Warrior Play," and so forth. Thus Sorgenfrei's Noh Cycle, while profoundly inspired by the no, works differently from a"pure" no play in that it encapsulates the entire all-day no cycle in one play that has five thematically related scenes. While it might be tempting to evaluate Sorgenfrei's Noh Cycle solely in terms of fourteenth-century no dramaturgy, I think this would be missing the point. The shogunate audience for whom Zeami wrote his plays at the turn of the fifteenth century was totally different from the feminist audience for whom Sorgenfrei is very consciously writing in Loren Edelson61 1975. Like Mishima in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 59-74
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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