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300Comparative Drama Schoenbaum, Hodges, and Taylor, Shakespeare: Text, Subtext, and Context is in the end a much more traditional collection of mainstream approaches than its quasi-Structuralist title implies. GREGORY W. LANIER University of West Florida Natalie Crohn Schmitt. Actors and Onlookers: Theater and TwentiethCentury Scientific Views of Nature. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990. Pp. 163. $26.95 (cloth); $12.95 (paper). The title of Schmitt's book is taken from a theatrical allusion used by the great physicist Neils Bohr: "We are both onlookers and actors in the great drama of existence." The title and its originator are the first clues to Schmitt's thesis that "underlying an important segment of contemporary theater . . . are aesthetic principles consistent with contemporary scientific views of nature and our place within it" (p. 1). For Schmitt the aesthetic principles most compatible with these contemporary scientific views are found in the writings of John Cage. Cage, according to Schmitt, "has continually sought to understand what the implications of scientific discovery are for our ordinary modes of thought and, of all theorizers, has most boldly and fully envisioned an art that reflects this thought" (p. 3). Schmitt's first chapter thus contrasts Cage's "naturalistic aesthetic," reflecting the views of modern physics, with the traditional, biology-based Aristotelian theater aesthetic from which most contemporary avant-garde theater departs, according to the following figure: ARISTOTLECAGE 1.Living1. Phenomena A. Developmental motionA. Process i. CausalityB. Field ii. TeleologyC. Chance, indeterminacy, purposelessness iii. Unity and OrderD. Unimpededness and interpénétration 2.Knowing2. The observation 3.Talking3. Language and technology Using the vocabulary of physics and with references to, among others, Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger, David Böhm, Percy Bridgman, Jacob Bronowski, Werner Heisenberg, Jerzy Grotowski, Richard Foreman, and the / Ching, Schmitt's explanations are densely but cogently presented. Within the context of Cage's views and field theory, for example, Schmitt observes: Contemporary theater generally has turned its attention to the examination of the relationships between space and mass, sound and silence, and motion and non-activity. The scenery is no longer the background for the action; the total space, including the audience space, may be used as the environment in which actors, audience, light, and sound all interact. There may be no backstage or hidden space. Frequently, actors remain visible throughout a performance and make their costume changes ... in full view, no curtain keeps set changes unseen; the changes become part of the performance. Sound sources are often visible, and sound produced by the actors themselves may be preferred to recorded sound, (p. 24) Reviews301 For Cage, following Heisenberg, the field is the primary reality, and it is unbounded by space or time, or by cause and effect, or by intentionality : "Aristotle was a contextualist, but there is no end to the context envisioned by Cage or the physicist" (p. 25). Schmitt then goes on to demonstrate concretely how the Cagean aesthetic and the scientific world view it interpenetrates are theatrically expressed by the Wooster Group's Rumstick Road (1977). To "allow us more easily to identify the departures from traditional works" Schmitt compares Rumstick Road to O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night (1941). This comparison also helps to explain "the heightened interest among avant-garde theater-goers in performance theater ... as well as its structure, its treatment of point of view, its use of objects and space, the interpénétration of this theater and life, the acting style it employs, and even certain of its rehearsal techniques" (p. 3). Indeed, this chapter offers an exceptionally acute reading of Rumstick Road and its underlying aesthetic foundation. Following her analysis of Rumstick Road, Schmitt shows how Cagean aesthetics has shaped the materials and structure of a very popular commercial theater piece: A Chorus Line. She argues persuasively that the material, structure, and "means of creation" of A Chorus Line are "based on a perception of reality radically different from that inherent in conventional theater." And, as she also notes, "the implications for theater of the popularity of performance based on a radically new aesthetic are enormous. The aesthetic pays" (p. 91). Schmitt's final two chapters "shift attention from theatrical works to acting...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 300-302
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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