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THE SENSE OF AN ENDING Gerald Rabkin BOOKS REVIEWED- Theandric:JulianBeck's LastNotebooks. Ed. by Erica Bilder and Judith Malina. Philadelphia: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1992. Ridiculous Theatre:Scourge ofHuman Folly. The Essays and Opinions ofCharlesLudlam. Ed. by Steven Samuels. N.Y.: Theatre Communications Group, 1992. Essays on The BlurringofArt andLife. Allan Kaprow. Ed. by Jeff Kelley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. UnbalancingActs: Foundationsfor a Theater. Richard Foreman. N.Y.: Pantheon Books, 1992. What we call the beginning is often the end And to make an end is to make a beginning. -T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding" n a recent interview in the Village Voice (June 1, 1993) about the future of the theatre avantgarde , Richard Foreman looked back wistfully: "It's difficult to imagine having a career [now] doing the kind of thing people like me have done throughout the years.... When I began at the end of the 60s, there was the genuine illusion of a genuine counterculture . That illusion has dried up." Few would argue with Foreman's assessment or that of his interviewer, Randy Gener, who writes that despite perseverance over two decades by Foreman and others, "experimental fervor is.. .a pale, dated version of the vital and vitalizing blood gush it once was." For those of us old enough to have shared in that vitality (and yet not so old as to share in the wry sentiment I recently saw on a cocktail napkin at an old persons' party: "It's hard to be nostalgic when you can't remember anything"), it is hard to avoid the unproductive emotion of nostalgia that has so afflicted the contemporary sensibility , affecting not only the avant-garde, but popular culture as well (quintegenarian rock stars, Brady Bunch reruns, Gershwin musicals, etc.). As I write, it's exactly a quartercentury after that annusmirabilis,1968, the silver anniversary of the "year of the barricades" which witnessed student rebellions from Paris to Tokyo M 75 to Mexico City to Warsaw to Chicago, which triumphantly saw the anti-war movement gain ascendancy, and which despairingly saw the Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinations , the extinction of the Prague Spring and the collapse of the French revolution. Infused by this charge ofpolitical energy, 1968 was the year that American experimental theatre defined itself, as Foreman does above, as "a genuine counterculture." Despite different formative impulses and agendas, the experimenial groups that had been emerging throughout the late 50s and 60s recognized their kinship in a common theatre ofsocial and aesthetic dissent. 1968 saw the Radical Theatre Festival's gathering at San Francisco State College of the Bread and Puppet Theatre, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Teatro Campesino, and other street and guerilla theatres; the PlayHouse of the Ridiculous' s Moke-Eater and its off-shoot, the Ridiculous Theatre Company's Turds in Hell; the premiere of the Open Theatre's The Serpent in Rome; and the debuts of Richard Schechner's Performance Group with Dionysus in '69 and Foreman's Ontological -Hysteric Theatre with Angelface. Abroad, Peter Brook directed at the Round House in London his innovative Tempest, which inspired his subsequent radical experiment in his International Center of Theatre Research in Paris. It was also the year of Grotowski's Theatre Laboratory (which triumphed from Edinburgh to Aix-en-Provence), whose proposed American visit had to be postponed a year to 1969 due to the Czech invasion . Nor let us forget that the modern 76 U PERFORMING ART JOURNAL 46 African-American theatre movement effectively starts in 1968 with the founding of the Negro Ensemble Theatre. And recall the immediate impact ofJoseph Papp's Public Theatre which followed its 1967 debut offerings of Hairand Hamletwith next season's production of Jakov Lind's Ergo and Vaclav Havel's The Memorandum. 1968 also saw the triumphant, if controversial , return of the Living Theatre from European exile: from September 1968 to March 1969 the group traveled from Berkeley to Brooklyn, filling auditoriums , gymnasiums, churches, theatres with audiences who responded passionately to what was clearly a theatre that made a difference. Wasn't that a time, even if a brief one. As political imperatives waned in the early 70s, countercultural unity began to dissipate...


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