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representation she is producing. Good as this chapter is, it suffers from a crucial omission: why isn't gay theatre mentioned? If Genet's gender-bending is excluded because he's French, doesn't someone like Charles Ludlam warrant attention? In any case, the book's focus on issues of gender and sexuality, along with its distrust of the essentialism that would ground cultural identities in biological categories, would seem to require some treatment of male interventions into the "polarized gender behvaior" encoded in traditional theatre. The explicitly political stance of this book is invigorating; the occasional drift of its rhetoric toward a manifesto (Dolan is comfortable using a phrase like "politically suspect") is less so. Most troubling, perhaps, is its ideological closure, which leads Dolan to elevate one kind of performance to paradigmatic status, thereby jeopardizing what she otherwise proclaims so eloquently: the need to diversify the voices which constitute our theatrical discourses. However, as one of the most intelligent and committed of those voices, and one whose blind spots are as illuminating as her considerable insights , Dolan deserves serious attention. Una Chaudhuri Text andSupertext in Ibsen's Drama Brian Johnston Penn State Press; 299 pp.; $28.50 (cloth) A famous caricature of Ibsen shows him a magician onstage, pulling spirits from his top hat before a horrified bourgeois audience. Much current criticism makes him out to be as bourgeois and out-of-date as those spectators . Ibsen has been sanitized as a "classic," often studied but, apart from A Doll House and Hedda Gabler, rarely performed. Although psychologically less supple and subtle than Chekhov, he is still capable of an occasional vivid character study and good for a hearty lecture on a social problem. This reductive view reached its nadir in Walter Kerr's assertion that the discovery of penicillin had made Ghosts obsolete. Brian Johnston's books are not for people who like their classics safe. His Ibsen is not anecdotal but archetypal. Johnston's major thesis, first put forward in his 1975 book The Ibsen Cycle, is that the plays from Pillarsof Society to When We DeadAwaken form a unified "Realist Cycle" potentially as significant for Western thought as Dante's Commedia.The pattern of this cycle rehearses the structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind/Spirit. For Johnston, the plays represent a comprehensive attempt to "subvert everyday reality's claim to express sufficient truth," a project as 165 valid and necessary today as one hundred years ago. His new book constitutes both a defense and a development of this thesis. The first four chapters explain the notion of "supertext" and rebut claims of several competing schools of Ibsen criticism. The remaining chapters are dose readings, some previously published, of five plays in the Cycle. The "supertext" of the title refers to the cultural code from which an artist draws signs and adds resonance to their meanings. Johnston does not consider a major artist to be "spoken by" a time period but to enter its predominant discourse decisively. For the greatest artists, this supertext forms a spider-web composed of "circumferences of implication" in which "any significant action involves all the layers simultaneously." Ibsen's supertext involved, at its core, the attempt to reconcile Hellenism and Christianity in what Ibsen called a "third empire of the spirit." Johnston sometimes assumes that not only fellow scholars, but the common reader as well, share his familiarity with Ibsen: in a discussion of Rosmersholm he suggests it "is likely that many in the audience will ... pick up the link with EmperorandGalilean," a play nearly unknown to all but Ibsen specialists. He also occasionally falls prey to asserting, rather than demonstrating, his subject's strengths. His reading of the plays, however, shows a marvelous awareness of their sensuality as textsfor performance. Designers will particularly gain from his explanations of Ibsen's stage space. Johnston's work has the same potential for revitalizing Ibsen as Jan Kott's had for Shakespeare. For its analyses of subtext and supertext and its connotations for the function of art in a despiritualized age, Text and Supertext should be required reading for anyone involved in making theatre. Walter Bilderback Plays by Women: An InternationalAnthology Ubu...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 165-166
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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