- Introduction to Focus:Theater
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Theater is life. It is in our nature to perform; Aristotle's Poetics are built upon the foundation that, from our youngest childhood experiences, we appropriate characters and roles. That act of appropriation without commitment in real life is what leads us to create and participate in acts of theater. The review essays in this focus are devoted to the various forms and understandings of theatrical experiences from the Renaissance to the present.
Susan Cerasano's review of W. W. Streitberger's Masters of the Revels and Elizabeth's Court Theatre focuses on the developments in the revels office, which had jurisdiction over what would be staged, as well as how and where during the reign of Elizabeth I. The review that she presents reminds us that there are always forces and figures beyond audience desire that determine what will hit the roadblock of the fourth wall and what will break through it, to live in front of an audience. Shakespeare's work is unarguably great, as was his savvy to befriend the master of revels so as to gain favor for his work and his company of actors. This, Cerasano points out to readers, was of great importance for Shakespeare and his peers. Politics and theater, as Cerasano reminds us, have nearly always been star-crossed lovers. As we read in the wake of the #MeToo movement and consider the sexual politics of Hollywood and television, we might consider all the great performances never seen because the wrong people were befriended or the right people not friended.
Brian Rhinehart's review of the recent production of Adrienne Kennedy's He Brought Her Heart Home in a Box assesses what is happening on the off-Broadway stage now, but it still connects us back to the master of revels as, in the play, the two protagonists meet backstage at a production of Marlowe's The Massacre at Paris (1593). Apart from that internal connection, the review focuses in part on Kennedy's experimentation with convention. Yes, please note the irony of that statement. As Rhinehart's review points out, Kennedy's earlier work was characterized by its interiority and experimentation with form. This newest play is autobiographical and conventional in structure and definition of tragedy. The master of revels would have been probably pleased, but audiences may wonder what prompted the switch. Is it to please producers, audiences, the author, or all of the preceding?
It is interesting to compare Rhinehart's review with Homan's review of Rhinehart's work. Sidney Homan's review of Brian Rhinehart's brilliant Butoh adaptation of Medea is really an introduction for many readers, both to Rhinehart's direction and to the art of Butoh, which nods to both tradition and convention while making great experimental strides. Butoh, as Homan explains, is a branch of Japanese theater dance that arose in response to the horror of Hiroshima. The opposite of kawaii cute culture, Butoh does not seek to distract from pain and horror but to stage it so that the audience can confront it, with the characters as a mechanism for discussion and healing. The production, as Homan analyzes it, has obvious debt to traditional Noh theater and to Yeats' adaptation of that form. That is the conventional part of the composition, as is the use of a quintessentially tragic text. The Butoh form itself, while drawing on Noh, is an experiment in the merging of theater and dance, especially in the United States. Just as Yeats brought Noh to small Western audiences, so Rhinehart brings Butoh to Soho. Homan's review shows readers that the Butoh form of theater, and this production in specific, needs far greater exposure.
My review of Andrew Lloyd Webber's memoir, Unmasked, provides a rather critical read of the British master of musical theater and his work, which does not suffer from lack of exposure. As the memoir points out, at one point Webber had three shows running simultaneously on Broadway and several productions also being staged in the West End. Webber's ability to popularize musical...