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190 Comparative Drama Lynda Hart. Sam Shepard's Metaphorical Stages. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1987. Pp. ix + 157. $29.95. The title of Lynda Hart's book is a ricbly ambiguous one that fairly sums up the difficulty of writing on such a playwright as Sam Shepard. Studying his staging of extended metaphor (rather than consistent plot or characterization), his stage as metaphoric reflection of his life and his use of the stage simply as "metaphor" quickly come to mind. Ron Mottram (Inner Landscapes, 1984) approached the Shepard dilemma by unearthing and analyzing the works' dramatic metaphors, sometimes striving for overly definitive answers. Don Shewey (Sam Shepard, 1985) and Ellell Oumano (Sam Shepard: The Life .and Work of an American Dreamer, 1986) have both argued that the plays lose their effectiveness when analyzed but do much to reveal Shepard the man. And various articles have argued the value of .looking at Shepard's works from a metatheatrical point of view, dispensing with "meaning" altogether and concentrating on "effect." Hart's book more closely follows the lines of Mottram but seems informed by an uncertainty brought on by the other camps ~which argue that Shepard plays defy criticism. What Hart has done in her work, oftentimes, is to avoid overtly arguing her ''understanding'' of a piece and to opt instead for a more neutrally descriptive approach. However, buried in the plot summaries and other forms of description are numerous insights . And beyond the discussions themselves are still more observations ieft for the readerto string together. Much raw material is offered, but the full digestion is left to the reader. Perhaps because of the evasive nature of Shepard's "meaning," Hart often appears unwilling fully to posit her views though her various theseS promise otherwise. Hart puts forward several arguments in her Introduction. the central of which is: "I hope to dispel the. notion that Shepard's theatre is rootless and dispense with the idea that Shepard emerged sui generis" (p. 2) .. She provides a substantial list of European influences-Brecht, PirandelIo, Artaud, lonesco, and Beckett-which she seems prepared to discuss. Unfortunately, such discussion is often provided almost as an afterthought. In all fairness, Hart does say she will present these influences as "background" (p. 3), but what is offered is teasingly sparse. Perhaps the problem.lies in the fact that she plans.to emphasize another similarly ambitious project, that ~f tracing Shepard's development "through a variety of forms--personal expressionism, social expressionism, and absurdism, ..at the last returning to a modified realism" (p. 5), a development that "recapitulates the major movements in the drama of the twentieth. century" (p. 5). Such an overlay could succeed, but it is very ambitious. Following the Introduction is a brief thongh informative summary of the Sixties that pmvides material on Shepard's roots and highlights the influences of metatheater on Shepard, metatheater becoming another Hart focus.. ....Th.enext. chapter,.'~MetaphoricaI Stages," focuses on Shepard's pre-naturalistic plays and on their metatheatrical designs. Given the similarity between book and chapter titles, one expects this section to 1-i RevieW$ 191 bear the criticaIweight of the book. But it leaves one with a sense of incompleteness. The read~r is presented, for example,. with brief observations that the last scene in Cowboys #2 reinforces Shepard's "emphasis on the metaphorical reality of the world as· stage" (p. 29), and a similarity between that play and Pirandeno's Henry IV is discussed. But for what purpose is the metatheater motif utilized? A hint is given in Hart's discussion of Chicago; describing a character's actions, Hart .notes, "Through denial and repression, Stu successfully subsumes the objective world into his own subjective vision" (p; 35). Metatheater is a means of presenting the dilemmas of "consciousness." Once this deduction is made, much of what Hart reveals about metatheatricality takes on "meaning ." But one bas to look for these gems, as they're dropped, and most are" unfortunately buried in just this mariner. The following cbapter,"Realism Revisited," works to align Shepard's next major phase with a naturalist tradition, thongh this "should not be misint.erpreted as a retreat to worn-out conventions and tired traditions...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 190-191
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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