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  • Theatre and War: Theatrical Responses Since 1991 by Jeanne Colleran
  • Melissa Jackson Burns
Theatre and War: Theatrical Responses Since 1991. By Jeanne Colleran. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Cloth $90.00. 250 pages.

In Theatre and War: Theatrical Responses Since 1991, Jeanne Colleran approaches her discussion by first grounding the reader in the reality of the media and its effect on war and our perceptions of war. In her opening chapter, "Introduction: Spectator of Calamities," Colleran delves into the intersection of war, media, and art. As she informs the reader, "the primary aim of this book is to investigate how the media, beginning with the Persian Gulf War, has altered political analysis and how this alteration has in turn affected socially critical art" (6). To accomplish this aim, she begins with an exploration of the wartime media's "tactical and symbiotic role" (3), including media broadcasts such as President George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech and still images such as the pictures of torture from Abu Ghraib. Colleran makes connections between war, the media, and theatre throughout her exploration of close to fifty theatrical pieces, some of which comprise cycles of plays, written in response to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the first Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, the events of 9/11, and the War on Terror. She continually returns to the interconnectedness of these entities, effectively grounding the reader in a performance studies approach that combines investigation of dramatic, theatrical events with analysis of the performative elements of war, as shown in media images and national leaders' speeches and actions.

In chapter one, Colleran lays out the wars and political events, such as the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison scandals, that sparked the theatrical pieces in her discussion. She begins by touching on the events of 9/11, exploring the role the media played in the subsequent war through the selection of images that "provoke public response and policy response" (14, emphasis original). Colleran asserts that "media coverage may appear to be reporting what has been discovered, but it is [End Page 187] also delivering what it has constructed" (14). As Colleran frequently returns to this idea throughout the book, the implication that surfaces is that we need theatrical responses to look at events such as war through a lens that looks beyond the selective images the media supplies.

After laying this groundwork, Colleran discusses several theatrical pieces, organizing them according to the specific war, political event, or topic they address. The division of these works does not follow a strictly chronological order, nor does she arrange the pieces strictly by topic. She begins her in-depth analysis of theatrical works with the First Iraq War and ends with the War in Afghanistan; in between she has chapters that address events such as 9/11 and topics such as terrorism and torture. In chapter two, "Turning History into Happening: The First Iraq War," Colleran initiates a discussion that interlaces world events, US foreign policy, President George H. W. Bush's approach to war, the influence of the media, and the theatrical responses that began in 1991. Further analysis effectively connects the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush and sets the stage for a subtle critique of national leaders that continues through subsequent chapters.

Theatre and War proves to be as much a critique of national policy as an investigation of theatre, and several chapters focus on theatrical responses to specific political administrations. In these chapters, Colleran crosses national boundaries, incorporating into her discussion the policies and decisions of leaders such as Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein. Chapter six, "War Documents," includes an extensive discussion of the Blair administration through a detailed analysis of two plays, Justifying War and Called to Account. In chapter three, Colleran similarly examines Peter Sellars's The Persians, a "daring" attempt to understand Saddam Hussein through the use of Greek tragedy (67). Whether simply a result of the focus of the theatrical pieces she discusses or a conscious effort to critique the Bush administrations, Colleran seems to have made a glaring omission by excluding discussion of the policies enacted during the Clinton and Obama administrations, which...


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pp. 187-189
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