- G-9 Criticism of Drama
Algarin, Miguel, and Lois Griffith, Lois. ACTION: THE NUYORICAN POETS CAFE THEATER FESTIVAL. Simon & Schuster, 1997. xvii + 551 pp. $16.00.
Cheung, Martha P.Y., and Jane C.C. Lai. AN OXFORD ANTHOLOGY OF CONTEMPORARY CHINESE DRAMA. Oxford University Press, 1997. xii + 825 pp. No price listed.
Kuhns, David F. GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST THEATRE: THE ACTOR AND THE STAGE. Cambridge University Press, 1997. xx + 299 pp. $64.95.
Marranca, Bonnie, and Gautam Dasgupta, eds. THEATRE OF THE RIDICULOUS. A Performing Arts Journal Book. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. xviii + 188 pp. $18.00 paper.
The Performing Arts Journal, which appeared in the late 1970s, is still the most interesting journal of the “other theatre,” the theatre which cares little for the glitzy foolishness of Broadway. The editors are interested in the plays of Sam Shepard, María Irene Fornes, August Wilson. They recognize these dramatists as heirs to the Surrealist, visionary works of Gertrude Stein. They often edit such collections as this one, hoping that their efforts will convert serious admirers of high art.
This collection contains essays on Jack Smith, Ronald Tavel, Charles Ludlam, and Kenneth Bernard. It also contains plays by these writers, who use camp, popular culture to subvert middle-class values. Their plays emphasize the delight and horror of the body. [End Page 481] Marranca writes in a 1979 introduction, which is, perhaps, a landmark essay, that the Ridiculous “tends toward camp, kitsch, transvestism, the grotesque, flamboyant visuals, and literary dandyism.” It is, of course, dangerous to suggest that the plays are merely occasions for drag performances; the plays are often blasphemous rituals, Satanic revels, abusive gestures to the audience.
Smith, immortalized by Susan Sontag in her essay on camp, writes a play entitled “Rehearsal for the Destruction of Atlantis.” The key words suggest a playful destruction of a mythological place. Atlantis is called a “child’s vegetable garden of foreign policy cadavers.” How strange. Smith considers society (warfare) as child’s play, as “bodies” which are threatening to destroy “innocence.” He assaults his audiences. He writes, “Your head feels like a coconut—your eyes like sore rectums.” Smith, like Genet, screams insults, recognizing as he does, that theatre-goers want entertainment, not invective rape. The play ends with the recorded voice screaming, “Put back your blindfolds—then don’t—get out—I don’t need you—Get out of my dressing room—out!”
As for the sadistic, “comic” Bernard, erhaps the most Ridiculous of these dramatists, he is the one who writes “nihilistic magic.” His The Magic Show of Dr. Ma-Gico is surely unsurpassed as a slaughter-play, a revelation of future disaster—perhaps that disaster which is happening here and now without our recognizing it. IM
Robinson, Marc. THE OTHER AMERICAN DRAMA. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. 216 pp. $14.95 paper.
We sometimes tend to forget that there is an American drama other than that loved by daily journalists, the Broadway audience. Robinson discusses six dramatists—Gertrude Stein, Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, María Irene Fornes, Adrienne Kennedy, and Richard Foreman. He recognizes their subversions, their interrogations of “plot,” their refusal to accept the platitudes of social drama. These dramatists, for the most part, tend to question the meaning of drama. (Often their plays end abruptly and fight closure.) Like poets, they are interested in language, not action.
Stein is the mother of these dramatists. She writes that “Vocabulary in itself can be interesting.” Her plays avoid or question the notion of scene, act, character. She tends to make us read her texts and forces us to notice that words—even in repetition—are enigmatic, that perception is always partial. When we read a Stein play, we are aware of odd juxtapositions of words, of puns, of cinematic depictions. Robinson writes at one point that “Stein learned her technique from the cinema. . . . Each frame announces the situation, the composition anew; the ‘story’ starts over each time; only when the parts are taken together and followed sequentially does the film move and seem to breathe.”
Although we sometimes think of Williams’ plays as self-indulgent psychodramas, we are forced to see that they are unpredictable studies of...