- Staging Creolization: Women's Theater and Performance from the French Caribbean by Emily Sahakian
emily sahakian's Staging Creolization: Women's Theater and Performance from the French Caribbean meticulously analyzes and uncovers the complexity and richness of what it means to be a French Caribbean woman. In its careful examination of seven plays by Ina Césaire, Maryse Condé, Gerty Dambury, and Simone Schwarz-Bart, this monographic study traces how creolization is dramatized in each of these French Caribbean women writer's works. In my view, Staging Creolization is a great scholarly work because its introduction guides its audience architecturally through the monograph's keywords (e.g., "creolization," "diaspora performance," and "syncretism," to list only a few) as well as the book's central argument(s), methodological framework, and burning questions. What substantiates Sahakian's Staging Creolization as impeccably researched, meticulously analyzed, and impressively documented is its interdisciplinarity and theoretical rigor—which is evidenced, again, by the author's very complete and thorough introduction. For example, she explains, "I theorize [creolization in performance] as a practice of reinventing meaning and resisting the status quo that corresponds with the syncretic Caribbean performance practices of storytelling, music, dance, and ritual" (3). Scholars and students, especially those working in early modern Iberian studies, can learn a lot from Sahakian's outstanding methodological apparatus and carefully crafted research questions to approach the study of gender, race, and sexuality. By citing and dialoguing with theorists such as Patrick Chamoiseau, VèVè Clark, Patricia Hill Collins, Édouard Glissant, Stuart Hall, and Joseph Roach, among many others, Sahakian renders visible for her readers the complexity of Caribbean theater as a space that both "transmits and reinvents culture by reassembling and reflecting upon multiple cultural influences, points of view, epistemologies, and traces of the past" (14). Another strength of Staging Creolization manifests itself in the [End Page 181] author's ability to historicize and nuance the biographical, cultural, literary, and theoretical underpinnings of each play and playwright. In doing so, Sahakian cogently and convincingly cultivates Caribbean theatrical forms that are deeply political and popular. Theater and performance studies scholars and students across a wide array of disciplines and geographical areas will appreciate Sahakian's Staging Creolization for its acute handling of gender and race. As a scholar of color, I find it comforting and refreshing to read a book that centers the agency, lives, subjectivity, and voices of African-descended women and their ability to subvert sexualized stereotypes and position themselves with savvy in male-dominated theater scenes in the circum-Caribbean.
As Sahakian asserts, "The book is organized to develop the cultural literacies and knowledges appropriate for [the] study of French Caribbean women's theater and, more broadly, useful for any investigation of Caribbean theater and performance" (19). She also emphasizes, helpfully, that the "first three chapters are organized around three transhistorical themes that underscore how creolization is caught in the legacies of slavery and colonialism" (19). To that effect, Staging Creolization is divided into five chapters and a coda. Chapter 1 shows how Ina Césaire's Rosanie Soleil and Maryse Condé's Pension les Alizés creolize gender, theater, and knowledge of the past in order to unsettle the two historical stereotypes of the "Marilisse" and the "Chestnut," thus reinventing the sexualized legacy of abstracting women's bodies via the destabilization of established male-centric narratives of the past.
Chapter 2 explores three plays by Maryse Condé, Ina Césaire, and Gerty Dambury that reorder and remix the binary opposition between universal humanity and cultural difference. In this chapter, Sahakian argues that each playwright presents Caribbeanness as a "dynamic, unfolding historical process of creolization." "Remix(ing)," a key term in this specific chapter, operates a mode of creolization that illustrates for the author a multiplicity of cultural and historical viewpoints that highlight "the fluidity of the Caribbean self in motion" (55). Focusing on lived memories and black–Indian relations, this chapter demonstrates quite aptly the staging-creolization mode via each playwright's ability to refuse racial essentialisms, enact a constant...