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300Comparative Drama ceedingly scholastic, and probably definitive biography of Wilde by Richard Ellmann stands as a silent rebuke to the aberrant publication here under review. JAMES COAKLEY Northwestern University William Gruber. Missing Persons: Character and Characterization in Modern Drama. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1994. Pp. xi + 222. $40.00. At a time when notions of the unified self have become increasingly untenable, a book that purports to "restore [the study of] character to dramatic criticism" (p. 2) is likely to encounter difficulties. But inasmuch as William Gruber focuses on character in modern drama as the definition or redefinition of "subjectivity, identity, [and] selfhood" on the stage (p. 1), readers may feel that he sets out to "restore" to dramatic criticism a central component of its discourse. Rather than taking issue with recent critiques of the self, he demonstrates that these critiques are actually played out in dramas themselves and observes a continued centrality of the issue of character for theater criticism. The five chapters of this book are divided between the modern and the postmodern. The first two chapters argue that the modern theories of drama of Edward Gordon Craig and Bertolt Brecht "rewrite" what Gruber calls "the grammars by which agents are understood to act" (p. 10). The final three chapters then explore how the works of Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard, and Maria Irene Fornes "exemplify some of the problems that Brecht or Craig dealt with on more theoretical levels" (p. 10). In short, the intent is to demonstrate how the modern continues to provide the conceptual framework for the representation of character in postmodern drama. The analysis of Craig seems to be more innovative than the treatment of Brecht. Gruber coordinates a reading of Craig's essay "The Übermarionette" with an examination of his illustrations for the stage. Gruber contends that Craig consistently attempted to "discount psychological representation as the source of meaning in theatrical performance " and that Craig's conception of character resulted from a combined emphasis on artificial actors and on what he called the "kinetic stage" (p. 27). The departure from psychological representation, Gruber argues, is evident in the image of the marionette or "artificial actor" which "moves in accord with powers external to it" (p. 15). In Craig's conception, however, this departure is accentuated by a lack of mimetic component in the "kinetic stage"—a lack that Gruber identifies in the often insurmountable two-dimensionality of his designs for the theater. Consequently, the representation of character for Craig assumes Reviews301 a paradoxical dimension: while it is contingent upon external forces or environment, the environment he provides cannot be realized. Character thus remains thwarted, suspended and ghost-like. Since this characterdefining "space" remains undefined, Craig's illustrations "are studies in the attrition of individualized characters" and thus are "elaborate denials of the possibility of representing individual experience" (p. 46). Whereas pictorial art is crucial to the analysis of the representation of character in Craig, narrative art is crucial to Gruber's analysis of the complexities of Brecht's conception of character. While both theoreticians represent character as the product of external, material forces, Gruber notes that Brecht understands these forces as "the roles the world obliges one to play" (p. 59). For Gruber, the difference between pictorial and narrative structures in the theories of Craig and Brecht facilitates the social implications of the latter's conception of character. Indeed, Gruber maintains that Brecht's emphasis on the actor's difference from his or her role parallels the individual's relation to the roles he or she must play in daily life. With regard to the assessment of character and its representation in contemporary drama, Gruber thus implies that it is conceived either along pictorial or narrative lines, and that the more narrative its structure, the more socio-political the drama's implications. In the final three chapters Gruber seems increasingly interested in socio-political aspects and consequently the favoring of the narrative rather than pictorial representation of character. After emphasizing the resemblance between Beckett's theater and Craig's, Gruber then distances Thomas Bernhard from his usual association with Beckett. Bernhard is given a more Brechtian hue, and also it would appear that...

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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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