- Staging Creolization: Women's Theater and Performance from the French Caribbean by Emily Sahakian
Caribbean theater has a venerable history that emerged from sacred rites and the uproarious and decadent Carnival. Regional theater has encompassed works for the stage and the road, and the practice of theater has become a metaphor in culture and politics. Emily Sahakian joins [End Page 468] scholars such as Errol Hill and Judy Stone in chronicling Caribbean theater by female playwrights from Guadeloupe and Martinique in her book Staging Creolization: Women's Theater and Performance from the French Caribbean. She enacts feminist rehearsals (repeated engagements with the same texts) that might also be termed ambiguous remixes since her emphasis is on "a performative process of cultural remembrance" that reinvents and subverts (p. 202). Sahakian's work is in line with Hill's and Stone's both in the historical and cultural context she provides for francophone Caribbean theater and in the ways in which she seeks to complicate and explore continuities and discontinuities. Sahakian's method intertwines an analysis of performance and creolization. For Sahakian, creolization is a "practice of reinventing meaning and resisting the status quo that corresponds with the syncretic Caribbean performance practices of storytelling, music, dance, and ritual" (p. 3). Sahakian contends that these "remixes" or hybrid practices involve "strategic ambiguity, apparent contradictions, and interpretive tensions" (p. 3). It would have been valuable to put this definition in conversation with Michaeline A. Crichlow's Globalization and the Post-Creole Imagination: Notes on Fleeing the Plantation (2009). Nonetheless, the value of remixing is that it allows for epistemological transformation within the texts for reading or viewing audiences, as well as for scholars. Creolization as performative practice is "based in the principles of African-derived ritual and harnessed by enslaved people as a creative response to slavery's social structures and practices of subjection" (p. 11). Sahakian's work emphasizes process, contradiction, and the instability of multiple archives.
While Sahakian stresses instability and performance-based process, she also insists that this method is historically informed. She highlights these themes in seven works by four female playwrights: Ina Césaire, Maryse Condé, Gerty Dambury, and Simone Schwarz-Bart. Sahakian admits that her study is limited by the choice of these plays, which she attributes to accessibility. It would have been wonderful to see a younger generation of playwrights from the entire francophone Caribbean region (Haiti and Guiana are not included) in conversation with the established ones in her study. She rightly criticizes the bounds and frailty of her own archive and the broader annals of Caribbean theater. Her discussion of the archives and grappling with history (theatrical and non) are deft. Though when the archive is truly limited, as it is for Césaire's play Rosanie Soleil (1992), it is frustrating to read. These annoyances, however, are precisely the point. Sahakian was "unable to reconstruct this premiere performance, largely due to the fragility of the archive" because artifacts were destroyed in the 2010 Haitian earthquake (p. 38). Sahakian's observations and experiences of the archive are in line with those of Saidiya Hartman and Marisa Fuentes, both of whom recognize the limitations of official records for [End Page 469] assessing and articulating the histories and realities of black women. Like those scholars, Sahakian is inventive in her use of sources. She uses the plays and their performances as sources.
Sahakian's close readings are as formidable as her conversation about the archive. She uses doubling to structure her analysis of gender and the legacies of slavery. In chapter one, she juxtaposes two stereotypical characterizations of women—the whore or Jezebel-like figure, termed the Marilisse, and "the strong black woman," termed the Chestnut (p. 24). Sahakian employs these historical representations to "creolize gender, theater, and knowledge of the past in order to unsettle these two stereotypes and reinvent the sexualized legacy of abstracting women's bodies" (p. 25). She is successful in this project by demonstrating the ways...