PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 26.2 (2004) 52-60
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From Dog to Ant
The Evolution of Lee Breuer's Animations
Arthur J. Sabatini
Lee Breuer, La Divina Caricatura: A Fiction, Koben-havn & Los Angeles: Green Integer #43, 2003.
Outside a dog, a book is a man's best friend.
Inside a dog it's too dark to read.
La Divina Caricatura, subtitled A Fiction by Lee Breuer, is narrated by and based on the life of a dog, mainly. You might know the dog if you have followed Lee Breuer and Mabou Mines' works for the past thirty years. Her name is Rose, a mutt whose tales wag on about her love life and the fate of her friends, lovers, and incarnations. Rose is not Breuer's only animal attraction. He has been walking and talking with animals for his entire career and features an imaginary menagerie in the very titles of his plays: The Red Horse Animation, The B. Beaver, The Shaggy Dog Animation, The Warrior Ant, Epidog, and Ecco Porco. Far more than a zoo story, Breuer's batty vision is at once biotoonic (biology + cartoons) and mythopreposterous. It is conceived within a concoction that mingles Hinduesque cosmology and snatches of sociobiological hypothesizing with nods to Dante, Disney, and Nietzsche. But, Breuer, whose language can be explosive and his comedy abrasive, is not just a wild duck.
In La Divina Caricatura, it becomes clear that while he may have been making mayhem with Mabou Mines, he has also been engendering a substantial mytho-theatrical cycle of plays and a singular approach to acting and performance that brings together world theatre traditions and American pop culture. Moreover, his comedie animale descends from a lineup of notable thinkers, most of whom he merrily misreads. "To misunderstand is to transmute," he claims, and "to transmute is to make from another one's transmogrified self." (There is, I suspect, an entire theory of acting in that mutter.) Unlike Breuer's previous publications, which are mostly in script form, La Divina Caricatura recombines and annotates his cockeyed plots and looney scenes as a narrative. This allows for a more interiorized perspective on his characters and their [End Page 52] relationships. The book concludes with a twenty page Summa Dramatica, in which one of Breuer's characters summarizes his approach to performance and matters of the spirit. Overall, then, Là Divina Caricatura offers an opportunity to track Breuer's mythmaking, inquire into his sources, and speculate about his deeper doings.
More than two decades ago, Bonnie Marranca identified Breuer's creativity in terms of a "personal mythology," which revolves around love, creativity, and artistic success in the fractured pop and cultural scenes in America. (see the PAJ title Animations: A Trilogy for Mabou Mines, 1979) Her insightful introduction to the volume compares Breuer to Spalding Gray and Richard Foreman, among others, in the context of an "auto-mythopoeic" strain in American avant-garde theatre. She also alludes to the mythmaking practice of "bricolage," cited by Claude Lévi-Strauss, and marks Breuer as "the Groucho Marx of the American avant-garde." But what began with nascent autobiographical content and a sophisticated joker's take on theatre has, cumulatively, evolved into an extensive and complex system of thought and practice. By now, Breuer's oeuvre loops together several interconnected narratives, recurring characters, signature images and motifs, all suffused with an elaborating dramatic (yet comic) and serious (though comical) metaphysical depth drawn from his lifelong researches and personal and professional journeys.
La Divina Caricatura derives from The Shaggy Dog Animation, A Prelude to Death in Venice, Epidog, and Ecco Porco. To novelize them, Breuer edits out stage directions and photographs. He rewrites lines, varies the layout and typography, and interpolates new material. Unlike plays, the novelistic (re)formulation frees him to indulge in literary, authorial spiels, and insider asides. On the page, Breuer's punsterism is incessant: "I dreamed I was Computer Literate and sent you an Email in my mind . . . I was Pregnant...