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Reviewed by:
  • Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage
  • Ryan Claycomb
Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage. Edited by Carol Martin. Studies in International Performance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010; pp. 256. $90.00 cloth.

Virtually every book or article on documentary theatre in the last decade notes the boom in the form and its various avatars: verbatim theatre, docudrama, oral-history performance, theatre of witness, and the like. Carol Martin's new collection of essays and performance texts adds a crucial element, focusing on "an emerging theatre of the real that directly addresses the global condition of troubled epistemologies about truth, authenticity and reality" (1). The collection consists of two main sections: the first is a provocative assortment of essays that addresses what Martin calls "the theatre of the real" in a global context; the remainder is an anthology of texts for seven such performances ranging across the globe: South Africa, Poland, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Argentina, and the United States. In addition to these fascinating and important texts, Martin includes introductory essays from scholars and practitioners that compellingly frame these performances within their specific theatrical and political contexts.

Martin is already an established, authoritative voice on documentary theatre, having edited TDR's fall 2006 issue on the topic, and she reproduces two of the essays from that issue here: Wendy Hesford's "Staging Terror," and her own essay "Bodies of Evidence." The latter, along with her introduction, lays out a useful framework for studying the form, not only for the texts she includes here, but more broadly as well. Together, Martin's own contributions theorize the crucial questions that attend documentary theatre: how do we approach "the real" in a postmodern context? how does technology serve to foreground and undermine notions of truth and reliability? How do Western epistemologies condition our understanding of authenticity and artifice, of reality and theatricality?

The essays that follow, particularly those by Hesford and Janelle Reinelt, probe these fault lines with depth and sophistication. Hesford's contribution examines photography and performances that address American detainment and torture practices, and considers the activist potential of such pieces as alternative truths to the rhetoric of the US war on terror. Reinelt broadens the focus to theorize the theatre of public events in a culture in which public events are already theatricalized. Using The Colour of Justice, Tricycle Theatre's 1999 tribunal play on the Stephen Lawrence case in the UK, Reinelt argues that within the fundamentally interrelated spaces of theatricalized reality and reality-based theatre, "[t]heatrical tools can be useful for decoding social reality, and evidence and documents can enrich the ties between our fictions and our contemporary experiences" (41).

Other essays in the first section focus more closely on specific global performance contexts: postapartheid South Africa, post-communist Poland, and the globally focused theatre of the German company Rimini Protokoll. Taken individually, each essay represents an important entry in a growing [End Page 142] archive of political theatre in which Western performances are only one subset among many. Taken together, these essays provide models for thinking about terms like "documentary," "evidence," and "truth" in culturally specific ways, and, along with the performances that follow, highlight and further complicate the stakes of documentary performance, as well as the very notions of reality and truth in a Western theoretical climate that is deeply suspicious of such concepts.

The collection makes only scant mention of the texts and performances that comprise what we might call the developing canon of documentary theatre: the works of Anna Deavere Smith, David Hare, Emily Mann, and Moisés Kaufman's Tectonic Theatre Project are only ever mentioned in passing. While some scholars and students working on documentary theatre might be frustrated by the comparative absence of these artists, this collection can also be seen as a welcome corrective to the West-centric impulses of such canon-formation.

The core of the volume is part 2, which presents seven performance texts that comprise a variety of approaches to a global theatre of the real. Many of the texts are explicitly political: Teatre Ósmego Dnia's The Files and Paweł Demirski's Don't Be Surprised When They Come to...


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pp. 142-143
Launched on MUSE
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