Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

The Theatricality of Playing over and Playing Out

Academic journal article Themes in Theatre

The Theatricality of Playing over and Playing Out

Article excerpt

If Frankenstein were a theatre, Victor and Elizabeth, two brilliant objects of desire and enviable emblems of poise, would be the actors in it, and the Monster, who hides in the wings, is unnamed and ignored, and disrupts the action with his unsanctioned appearances, but who exerts an ineluctable influence on the course of the action, would be the stage manager. This is one conclusion drawn by 500 Clown in their production of 500 Clown Frankenstein, which not only stages episodes from the novel but brings the book onto the stage as a kind of character that interacts with the clowns and turns the theatre into a version of the novel's world. This encounter between theatre and novel reveals much about the elastic ontology of the theatrical event and the rules of the games that animate it. But theatre is more monstrous and multifaceted than a confrontation between clowns and Frankenstein and demands other ludic encounters to fully reveal its character.

If The Great Gatsby were to present itself on stage in a manner analogous to that of its eponymous character, it would be under a false name, it would assume outlandish, extravagant proportions, it would be engaging, seductive, and illicit, and in the end it would vanish without a trace. The company Elevator Repair Service understands this fact and, in Gatz, constructs a ludic arena in which the novel can make such an appearance.

If the great Western myths of Enlightenment and Deception were characters in a dramatic agon, they might be named, respectively, The Purloined Letter, where things hidden in plain sight are discovered through the rigorous application of reason, and Othello, where lies collude with anger and fear to devour the truth. The struggle between these matrices of revelation and manipulation might be set in a world of poets, despots, and Lacanian psychoanalysts, where nothing makes sense without detective work and everyone has had a hand in creating the chaotic, confusing state of affairs on stage. David Isaacson and Theater Oobleck have conceived such an encounter in such a world in A Letter Purloined.

If one of the U.S. presidential debates between George Bush and John Kerry had grappled with the central purpose of the theatrical event, the candidates might have divided their positions on the subject between theatre as an intensely unique moment in which the imaginary world on stage is infused with an overwhelmingly violent reality and theatre as an orderly series of rehearsed expectations so stable in their meticulously plotted unfolding that they sink into sleep. Mickle Maher and Theater Oobleck in The Strangerer explore the possibilities of allowing the theatricalized politics of a presidential debate to become the stage where politics, culture, ethics, and aesthetics can engage and interact. Murder and sleep are just two of the strategies displayed in this elaborate game.

Theatre plays many games on a variety of socio-cultural fields. Some of these games are autotelic, engaged in solely for their intrinsic pleasures; others are more in the nature of ritualized or rule-bound combative encounters fought out to prove something or gain an advantage. Goffman's suggestion that 'dramatic scriptings' are a relatively 'pure' form of theatre because the only thing at stake in the performance is entertaining the audience (1974: 125) is too simplistic because there are often, if not always, other things at stake in other games being played while the dramatic script unfolds on stage.

Goffman notes theatre's complexity himself in distinguishing between the roles of theatre-goer and on-looker (Goffman, 1974: 129- 31). A theatre-goer may be engaged in various ludic activities - impressing a date, gaining advantages over a business rival, gathering and performing amusing anecdotes - that are distinct from the ludic activity of watching sympathetically as the play unfolds. But even the role of onlooker may involve an audience member in more than one game. …

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