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  • Theatre and Performance in the Asia-Pacific: Regional Modernities in the Global Era by Denise Varney, et al.
  • Kevin J. Wetmore
Theatre and Performance in the Asia-Pacific: Regional Modernities in the Global Era. By Denise Varney, Peter Eckersall, Chris Hudson, and Barbara Hatley. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 253pp. Hardcover, $85.00.

This book embodies the tension(s) inherent in its own topic. It seeks to explore the similarities and differences in regional performance in four Asian nations. “This book offers a series of case studies that explore theatre practice in Australia, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore, chosen for their contrasting histories and cultures, to show how theatre produces transformations at national, regional, and global levels” (p. 1). It is also not coincidental that those nations are also the respective areas of expertise of the four authors.

Australian identity is hybrid, European settler culture both incorporating and being resisted by indigenous culture, which has its own modernity. Japan is different in that it chose modernity, rather than having it imposed as part of colonialism, and it has been grappling with its own modern identity for a century and a half. In contrast, Indonesia is recently postcolonial and emerging from an extended dictatorship, while Singapore evinces hypermodernity and a hybrid culture as a much smaller city-state with different ethnic identities competing with a national identity.

Two useful constructions in the volume are, first, the idea of the Asia/Pacific region as “a place, identity and set of cultural practices,” rather than an “object of knowledge” and, second, the idea that modernity is always regional, multiple, and contradictory (p. 4). With these caveats, the volume splits into three thematic parts of four chapters each, one for each nation or culture engaged, followed by a fourth part consisting of a single chapter plus a conclusion. The first part deals with text-based drama. The second part engages [End Page 236] performative representations of the Asia/Pacific region as a fluid space of liquid modernity. The third expands beyond Asia to the global reach of these cultures and the influence of globalism on local performance.

All of the chapters are rooted in Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of hybrid modernity and inspect the fluid nature of that modernity in their respective cultures. The volume is a hybrid itself—a scholarly anthology masquerading as a monograph. This statement is not intended as a criticism, merely an observation that at its best the volume coheres into a unified whole that finds much insight in the comparison between these cultures, and at its worst it reads like the theme issue of a journal.

Chapter 1 considers Australia as a site of both indigenous and Anglo-European drama. Offering a close reading of the plays of Andrew Bovell, the chapter studies how dramas such as Holy Day (2001) and When the Rain Stops Falling (2009) play with theatrical time and space in order to interrogate Australian official narratives of progress and modernity, revealing much of the violence that underlies Australian history. The volume begins to feel more fully integrated in this chapter, as the author cross-references subsequent chapters.

In the second chapter, Stella Kon’s monodrama Emily of Emerald Hill (1989) is analyzed as an interrogation of Singaporean hybrid modernity, the play depicting a member of the comprador class of Chinese immigrants marrying into a Malaysian family. Contrasted with this is the third chapter’s analysis of Rendra’s Kisah Perjuangan Suku Naga (The Struggle of the Naga Tribe, 1975), an Indonesian play based on real incidents that blends traditional wayang elements with modern scripted drama. The chapter probes both the presence of modernity in wayang and the use of Western-style drama by Rendra to critique the Indonesian government. Rendra’s play is presented as a counter to “the state-imposed modes of Indonesian modernity based on capitalism and progress” (p. 58). The second half of the chapter considers the shift in the 1990s to postmodernity as embodied in such companies as Teater SAE and Teater Kubur.

The last chapter of the first section offers a brief consideration of Hirata Oriza’s play Tokyō Noto (Tokyo Notes, 1994) as an example of how shingeki companies...


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pp. 236-238
Launched on MUSE
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