- Food and Theatre on the World Stage ed. by Dorothy Chansky and Ann Folino White
Dorothy Chansky and Ann Folino White’s collection of essays, bold in ambition and scope, seeks to unravel the relationship between food and theatre, “in all of its sociopolitical, material complexity” (2). The book has its origins in an American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR) working session, co-convened annually between 2008 and 2011. The volume is organized into five sections and is the first of its kind to consider the intersections of food and theatre across genres, historical periods, and cultural contexts. This compendium offers a broad range of chapters that critically reflect on staged comestibles and modes of consumption in performance, providing tasters of significant areas of analysis in this field and serving as a vital reminder of this rich area of scholarship.
The first section, “Dramatizing Gluttony and Famine,” presents key dramatic figures in relation to dramas embedded in cultural narratives and politics surrounding national cuisine and identity. Will Daddario and Joanne Zerdy’s essay examines the plays of sixteenth-century Paduan actor Ruzzante against their socio-agricultural setting, drawing inspiration from Jane Bennett to analyze food as an actant within this context. Recasting food as a nonhuman actor allows the authors to explore the network of relationships unfolding beyond staged drama, and the way that food informs and shapes cultural narratives. This dynamic is considered throughout the section and is particularly evident in the third essay by Praise Zenenga, which highlights the vital role played by theatre activists in engaging with political protest. Zenenga offers an insightful and provocative commentary on the Zimbabwean play Super Patriots and Morons, underlining the politics of food production and the dehumanizing effects of the food crisis on both the agricultural and theatrical stage, evoking how acts of consumption can be complicit with methods of exploitation.
The second section, “Staging Nationalism and Culture via Cuisine,” is organized around notions of national identity, juxtaposing culinary and cultural traditions from Japan, Germany, and China to consider how edible acts challenge the geopolitics of taste. Notable here is Claire Conceison’s essay, which presents Maoist nostalgia as a form of regurgitating the past in “red” restaurants while also engaging in the “politics of forgetting” (113). These restaurants operate as sites of reenactment through cuisine, memorabilia, and performances of songs reminiscent of 1950s and ’60s China on the cusp of revolution, leaving a bitter taste for some audiences while serving up a sweet, hazy memory for others.
Part 3, “Food Labor and Consuming Symbols,” contains chapters that meditate on food economics in relation to capitalist ideologies, reflecting how Brechtian politics, a post-9/11 dinner party from hell, and a series of medieval Passion plays are connected through subtle tensions between literal and figurative body politics. Outstanding here is Jocelyn Buckner’s essay “Slaughterhouse and Sensorial Affect” in which she explores Brecht’s Saint Joan of the Stockyards in relation to Naomi Wallace’s Slaughter City. Buckner skillfully cuts to the heart of the politics of labor and production in her examination of an affective materialist dramaturgy, through the “meeting and meating” (120) of bodies and philosophies in both plays, reminding us how different bodies are implicated in, and through, a variety of modes of consumption. These are evident in the actions of characters and audiences, challenging the corruption of systems that “purport to nourish us” (133). Chansky and White reflect on the hellish feast in Omnium Gatherum, a play set around a dinner party in post-9/11 New York, where characters [End Page 488] representing figures from Edward Said to Martha Stewart come alive in an exposition of contrasting political viewpoints. Here too we are reminded of the complexities of audience relations, where the “culinary optic” (145) challenges the way we perceive and engage with food in a theatrical context.
Shifting from an alimentary focus on politics to social dramas played out around food, Ariel Strichartz’s essay in the fourth section, “Food Activism on Stage...