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Towards a Theater of Immobility: Henry IV, The Condemned of Altona, and The Balcony Mary Ann Frese Witt Drama, like music, is in its traditional form a temporal art, progressing dialectically from situation through conflict to resolution and from a stage-time in the present to another stage-time in the present, whether the interval is a Racinian twenty-four hours or a Shakespearean number of years. Although radical experiments with temporality characterized the early twentiethcentury modernist revolution in the novel and the cinema, the restrictions of the stage and the weight of tradition made the drama relatively impervious to change. Indeed, it is not until the appearance of Waiting for Godot in 1953 that we find a drama without temporal progression or temporal reference, a form that is truly dramatic and yet in which "nothing happens, twice." Although experimentation with dramatic time occurs in theater characterized by theatricality or self-reflexivity, from the baroque to the turn-of-the-century avant-garde, it is the theater of Pirandello that would most deeply influence radical change in modern dramatic form, first of all in France. Writing in 1957 of the Pitoeffs' 1923 production of Six Characters in Search of an Author, Georges Neveux remarked, "The theater of an entire epoch came out of the belly of this play."l The maternal metaphor is particularly appropriate for Pirandello's theater, concerned as it is with the metaphorical birth process of the theatrical work, a process Pirandello compares to the natural birth process in his preface to Six Characters. A theater tending toward a spatialization of time and thus MARY ANN FRESE WITT is Professor of French and Italian at North Carolina State University and Visiting Professor of Italian at Duke University. Her publications include Existential Prisons and articles on Kafka, Camus, Sartre, Malraux, Genet, Pirandello, and others. 151 152Comparative Drama toward a replacement of dramatic action with immobility, a theater of which Pirandello is the most important initiator, reflects a psychological in conjunction with a political-historical situation. Much critical attention has focused lately on the connections between fascism and modernism, in particular as both imply an ahistorical view of the world or a nostalgia for a mythical space.2 According to Fredric Jameson, for example, the modernist "libidinal apparatus" both reflects the crisis of the subject and seeks to overcome it by rupturing the adult, serious world with the space of the sexual and the archaic.3 Variations on this type of aesthetic response to the cultural moment may occur irrespective of the ideology of the author. In the theater, both the concern with theatricality and the tendency toward immobility from the post-World War I to the post-World War II period reflect in some sense the rise of fascism and a concurrent regressive psychological state. With the comparison of Henry IV, The Condemned of Altona, and The Balcony, I hope to elucidate three important points on a continuum in what I have called the theater of immobility. The story (fabula) of each play concerns the failed attempt of characters living in a temporal "real" world to invade or destroy a timeless, illusive, and theatrical world. The latter world reflects both a static historical situation and a maternal, archaic, and atemporal space. This process, in each case the central dramatic action of the play, eventually reveals a social and psychological truth repressed in the "real" world but implicit in the theatrical one. Because non-action ultimately triumphs over action and a catharsis is never reached, the tragic elements in each play never add up to a tragedy. These are then three tragédies manquees in search (in the words of one of The Balcony's characters) of immobility. Working with the well-established (primarily baroque) theatrical conventions of role-playing and theater-in-theater, Pirandello radicalizes them so that they pose new questions. What if the self did not exist but were only a potentially infinite series of roles or masks? What if reality did not exist outside of its status as performance? Following the Pirandellian logic of these ideas, we arrive at a paradox. If what we call reality is essentially theatrical, then those who are most consciously...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 151-172
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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