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  • Re-visioning Myth: Modern and Contemporary Drama by Women by Frances Babbage
  • Megan Stahl
Re-visioning Myth: Modern and Contemporary Drama by Women. By Frances Babbage. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2011. Cloth $90.00. 261 pages.

In Re-visioning Myth: Modern and Contemporary Drama by Women, Frances Babbage sets up for herself a seemingly insurmountable task: to trace the practice of "re-vision" in women's drama through fourteen plays which are drawn from seven different countries and span nearly fifty years. Examining both the form and function of these works from a feminist perspective, Babbage explores the ways in which myths have been revised and adapted by female playwrights (and two male coauthors) to resist the gendered identities that classical narratives have embedded in western thought. Babbage contextualizes the discussion of each piece within its specific cultural moment, but also investigates how "myths and practices of rewriting can be a means of revealing shared attitudes and experience" (5). With [End Page 196] such a disparate base of source material and broad theoretical framework, this is a study that may not be expected to yield the kind of deep, nuanced analysis found in more narrowly focused monographs. Yet through meticulous research and detailed prose, Babbage's approach is not only effective for her particular purposes, but also provides fertile ground for further dialogue on adaptations of classical theatre.

In her introduction, Babbage considers the potential pitfalls of mythical adaptation, using for her example the controversial staging of Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats (2004). Unlike the critics of Carr's play, Babbage asserts the necessity of moving beyond a simple comparison of theatrical reworkings with their source material, instead evaluating how and why historical texts are revised to engage with contemporary discourse. This methodology informs her subsequent chapters, and Babbage is remarkably thorough in her efforts to situate each play in its historical context, as many of her examples are plays that were created in response to political or ideological crises. With Dario Fo and Franca Rame's Medea (1977), for instance, Babbage is careful to locate the piece within the Italian women's liberation movement as well as Rame's Marxist beliefs; similarly, her treatment of Hélène Cixous's The Perjured City, or The Awakening of the Furies (1994) concisely considers a myriad of influences, including the play's Greek heritage, the French blood scandal on which it is based, Cixous's critical writings, and her work with Théâtre du Soleil.

Babbage's final chapter deviates rather substantially from the overtly feminist tone of the preceding examples, as she takes on two plays by authors who have publicly denied the influence of feminism on their work. Sarah Kane's Phaedra's Love (1996) and Hrafnhildur Hagalín's Easy Now, Electra (2000) are, as Babbage suggests, concerned more with audience experience and the disintegration of theatrical security than the assertion of a sociopolitical agenda. Despite its departure in content and tone from the rest of her book, this is perhaps Babbage's best chapter in its consideration of the world of each play; the extent to which she scrutinizes individual production details provides alternative and insightful interpretations of a widely controversial work (Phaedra's Love) and a play relatively unknown outside of its native Iceland (Easy Now, Electra). With the former piece, Babbage disputes some of the criticism originally directed at Kane including, for example, the charge that she created the character of Strophe purely for the shock value of her rape and murder at Theseus's hands. Instead, she posits, this addition of incest and violence by Theseus, a man often considered to be the victim of fatal misrecognition, "works critically against [the royal family] by exposing its hypocrisy" (209) and lets no one remain blameless in the blood-soaked tragedy. Kane's mythical revision is thus able "to look in many directions at once" (235), capturing the British disillusionment with the monarchy and their political parties during the 1990s while still existing outside of a confining time or location, thereby allowing the audience to make its own connections. [End Page 197]

The copious amount of research that Babbage accumulated for...


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