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436Comparative Drama Wadda C. Ríos-Font. Rewriting Melodrama: The Hidden Paradigm in Modern Spanish Theater. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1997. Pp. xv + 198. $36.50. The task Wadda C. Ríos-Font undertakes in Rewriting Melodrama is almost encyclopedic. Not content with defining the formula of Spanish melodrama and tracing its origins, she attempts to prove its veiled presence —previously virtually undetected—in the drama of the second half ofthe nineteenth century. The author achieves these goals with uneven success. When she tracks the multiple historical uses of the term "melodrama" in Spanish literature, she does so with systematic zeal. This dry and diachronic glide through the plots of more than a hundred melodramas is, paradoxically, one of the major attractions of the work. The extensive survey results in a definition for the Spanish melodramatic formula, invented by Echegaray, which, eschewing the traditional obligatory combination ofmusic and speech, presents instead fixed inventories of sentimental plots, stock characters, and bombastic diction with a moral framework featuring "an emotional clash between virtue and evil." Rios-Font's text includes an attractive examination of melodrama 's modulations in light of documented critical reception. For instance , the survey of Galdos's apologetic attempts to defend his first realist experiments from the critics, his subsequent commercial failure, and the author's final submission to melodramatic forms is convincing and illuminating. However, other aspects ofRios-Font's study are problematic at best. She claims that virtually all of nineteenth century Spanish drama can be explained as variations on the success formula that Echegaray invented (and to which even the most rebellious authors, including Galdos, ended up succumbing for pragmatic reasons). The result of this mimetic tendency is a theater that "worked as a hegemonic force that appropriated the discourse of progress while simultaneously sustaining conventional ideologies." This superficial "appropriation" of forms that conceals traditional contents defines the "theater of impersonation," a term she coins to refer in general to late nineteenth century Spanish melodrama. The theater ofimpersonation is explained as emerging in times ofpolitical instability, when authors felt the need both to adopt attractive progressive positions and to maintain the perspectives of a morally ordered universe. Yet, the difficulty of establishing the actual intention of the authors, moral or otherwise, casts some troubling shadows on the term "impersonation." Ríos-Font justifies the term as follows: in the theater of impersonation "the donning of a mask is . . . not limited to the actors playing certain fictitious characters, but extends to the work itself, which plays the part of something else" (52). Even though the structuralist study of these works in terms of moral archetypes presents certain interest, the task of determining whether impersonations are meant to be progressive but fail to be so, or whether they intend to be only moderate variations Reviews437 on the formula, becomes self-defeating. For example, by portraying strong women who transgress social codes, even if they are finally defeated , authors enable the audience to perceive tensions that may be translated into alternatives. The validity of her notion of the "theater of impersonation" depends on its forceful definition as a failed attempt to depart from the moralizing, conservative formulas of melodramatic norm—rather than, for instance, as products of a transition period, as Hans Robert Jauss implies in his description of melodrama as a "process-like genre." Rewriting Melodrama also incorporates an assumption that dramatists , here depicted as a superior "Other," constitute the only dissenting voices in a conservative era. But their rebelliousness is depicted as, in effect, only a façade: "ultimately their theater worked according to the same traditional principles . . . and it worked as a hegemonic force that appropriated the discourse of progress while simultaneously sustaining conventional ideologies." This introduces us to another troubling aspect of Rios-Font's study: her totalizing vision of a Spanish public which, according to her, rejects ideological transformation and yet demands formal changes dictated by taste. In effect, the pervasive conservative spirit which demands the permanence of moralizing dramatic patterns becomes a ghostly and undefined presence that haunts the premise of the book. What Ríos-Font introduces as the theater of dissent ends up being no more than a formal variation of...

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