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Book Reviews JANET BROWN. Feminist Drama: Definition and Critical Analysis. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press 1979. Pp. 167. Janet Brown, Director of Theatre in the Communication Arts Department at the University of Hartford, has published the first book-length study of contemporary feminist drama. Although the second wave of the feminist movement in America has been building for almost two decades, feminist plays have not exactly been dominating the American stage. Rather than surveying plays by playwrights who call themselves feminists, Brown offers a definition of feminist drama drawn from the writings of feminist theorists and literary critics. She uses a rather narrow critical method and applies her theory to five feminist theatre groups in order to determine to what extent theatre is, has been, and can be a rhetorical device for feminism. According to Brown, feminist drama takes "woman's suuggle for autonomy against an oppressive, sexist society" as its central rhetorical motive. Brown uses Kenneth Burke's theory which states that "a rhetorical or persuasive motive inspires the symbolic act which is literature" as outlined in The Philosophy oj Literary Form. Following Burke, Brown searches for "associational clusters," both in plays purporting to be feminist and in those which seem feminist to her, which reveal a pattern of symbolic action and consequently the play's rhetorical motive. Brown recognizes the work ofother feministcritics such as Kate Millett, Ellen Moers, and Suzanne Juhasz, as well as that of theorists on the nature of women's oppression such as Simone de Beauvoir and Mary Daly. From the theorists Brown extracts the ideas that women's powerlessness is reflected in "the portrayal of the unjust soc io~sexual hierarchy" and that women are not portrayed as autonomous because they are perceived as objects and only in relation to men. The uniqueness of Brown's approach is its assumption that all dramatic art functions rhetorically and that the rhetorical motive (in this case the feminist impulse) of a play is implicit in its pattern ofsymbolic action regardless of whether the playwright in question professes any particular philosophical or political feminist position. Brown chooses from Burke's pentad (scene, agent, agency, purpose, act) the elements agent and scene to determine whether a play is feminist. The agentscene ratio detennines the quality of Book Reviews 103 feminism. Brown states: "If the agent is a woman, her purpose autonomy. and the scene an unjust socia-sexual hierarchy , the play is a feminist drama," Employing Burke's theory, Brown demonstrates that Tina Howe's Birth and Afterbirth (published in an ostensibly feminist collection, The New Women's Theatre, edited by Honor Moore) does not meet the criteria for feminist drama, because it does not show a female agent slTUggling for autonomy. On the contrary, a rather stifled, low-status housewife and mother oppressed by her obnoxious and overpowering four-year-old son (to be played by an adult actor) strives to convince a happy and professionally successful acquaintance whom she envies and despises to abandon her career for the throes of motherhood. Despite its male authorship, III the Boom Boom Room by David Rabe qualifies as feminist drama, according to the theory , because it portrays go-go dancer Chrissy struggling against oppression by her father, husband, and the male voyeurs for whom she perfonns. Even though Chrissy finds herself becoming more sexually exploited and more objectified toward the play'sconclusion than at the opening, the drama portrays her battle against the menacing socio-sexual hierarchy , whkh succeeds in defeating her only physically and economically but not emotionally. Rosalyn Drexler's The Bed Was Full, the least realistic and most farcical of the plays treated, succeeds as feminist drama, according to Brown, since it effectively portrays woman's oppression as sexual toy and emphasizes scene rather than agent by satirizing the socio-sexual hierarchy through dramatization of nonsensical stereotypes of women in relation to men. Since mistress/victim/artist's model Kali cannot establish her autonomy , the play offers a stunted level of feminism. Of the plays by single well-known authors which portray a lone female agent, Wine in the Wilderness by Alice Childress presents the clearest rhetorical statement of feminism. Agent Tommy asserts her own...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 102-104
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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