restricted access Theatre of the Real by Carol Martin (review)
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THEATRE OF THE REAL. By Carol Martin. Studies in International Performance series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012; pp. 216.

Carol Martin tackles the task of examining the increasingly symbiotic relationship between the theatrical and the reality beyond the walls of the theatre. Rather than offering a simple discussion of the use of verbatim documentation, Martin sets out to widen the definition of Theatre of the Real by including different methods that “recycle reality” into performance (5). Martin had previously investigated the concept of Theatre of the Real in her edited collection Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage, which combined essays with texts of various performances, but this work adds new speculation about the types of performances that use reality as a guiding force for the theatrical world, a useful tool for anyone analyzing performances that utilize ever-expanding archival sources within a production or script.

Chapter 1 sets the stage for the volume through a historiographical look at the intrusion of the real into performance. While not a departure from Martin’s earlier work on the topic, this chapter gives an efficient overview of the history of Theatre of the Real and a taxonomy of these performances. She asserts that technology and virtual performance have caused a “sea change in archiving brought on by digitization and the Internet” (ibid.). With the wealth of digital archives and material on the internet, she argues that Theatre of the Real has evolved as the immediacy of real documents has forced theatre artists to wrestle with the instant quality of memory in artifacts like online videos, blogs, and status updates.

The second and third chapters wrestle with different ways of understanding memory as a component of Theatre of the Real through examples as varied as Spalding Gray’s Rumstick Road and Hotel Modern’s Kamp. This section grapples with another of Martin’s key assertions: “Theatre of the real both acknowledges a positivist faith in empirical reality and underscores an epistemological crisis in knowing truth” (14). In tracing the ways that memory both heightens the awareness of an event’s reality and simultaneously distances the spectator from the event, she brings the work into conversation with identity theory, Theatre for Social Change, and the political and material undercurrents of theatre production. Scholars working in these fields will find these chapters particularly useful in illuminating the natural flow between memory and the theatrical, even when the memory is social rather than personal.

Building on her work with the concept of memory, Martin expands her analysis to show how the real can be altered through the theatrical, although the chapter’s examples sometimes fall short of this goal. Focusing on theatrical representations of the Holocaust, the author begins with an excellent analysis of Leeny Sack’s one-woman show The Survivor and The Translator, demonstrating how a familial memory/truth [End Page 486] is transformed through performance. However, the next example, Emily Mann’s Annulla (An Autobiography), feels rushed and without the depth included in other analyses. The argument returns to form with her reading of The Human Scale by Lawrence Wright, showing how a specific document—in this case, the Jewish Bible—transforms in meaning when brought into the theatrical environment. She shows how Wright produces a space where, instead of being the basis for religious observance, the stories can be shown as “comprehensible and tragic backstory” (115), shifting the audience’s perception of the original document.

Chapter 5 offers the most in-depth treatment of Theatre of the Real available in the study. Martin carefully and precisely details the construction of the controversial 2005 London production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, composed of the e-mails sent from Rachel to her family in the days preceding her death at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces as she attempted to protect the home of a Palestinian pharmacist. One especially clever insight comes toward the end of the chapter: Martin notes that the e-mails were “edited” by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, and her analysis shows how the authority for the telling of the story is passed from Rachel’s parents, the recipients of the e...


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