The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism

By Elinor Fuchs | Go to book overview

5
Another Version of Pastoral

FOREMAN: I’d like to think that in happier, healthier times maybe I
wouldn’t even be an artist.

LeCOMPTE: Yeah … I’ve had a vision of just doing landscape architecture. It
has to do with figuring out how to replant the earth the way it was. Returning
it. You know…. Returning it to the way it might have been naturally.1

THIS IS A discussion of a type of staging that has become a signature style of contemporary experimental theater. In these performances, the human figure, instead of providing perspectival unity to a stage whose setting acts as backdrop and visual support, is treated as an element in what might be described as a theatrical landscape. Correspondingly the spectator’s focus on this stage is no longer convergent: it is darting or diffuse, noting some configurations, missing others, or absorbing all in a heterogenous gaze. Heiner Müller wrote that the ideal “One-Person-Audience” for Robert Wilson’s Death, Destruction & Detroit II “should have one eye that is attached to a pillar rising from the navel, circular and catholic, or turning with great speed as the eye of a certain reptile whose name I have forgotten…. ”2 Theater patrons who seek new forms in the theater have become accustomed, if not to the 360-degree staging of DDDII, to the multifocal scene and the diffused spectatorship it calls for. They may not even recall what a break with realistic, perspectival spectatorship this represents unless reminded of the older practices, as I was a few years ago by a conventional staging of The Glass Menagerie, during which I was surprised to realize that the production didn’t absorb enough of my attention.

The progenitor of the idea of play as landscape was Gertrude Stein, but its proliferation may be attributed to the mid-century directors who brought back forms of choral staging, including Brecht, Grotowski, Brook, and the Living Theatre. An important epistemological role must be assigned to Beckett, who in Godot and then in Endgame, pushed to their almost parodic conclusions (implosions one might say) the two dominant dramaturgical and staging models— panoramic and concentrated—of the Western tradition.

In Godot, the panoramic journey of life becomes a journey in place, without origin or destination. The linear succession of scenes and times native to its structure has either frozen in place or, with the same result, entropically diluted to a timeless landscape. In Endgame, the intensive Aristotelian structure—one

-92-

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The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater after Modernism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Drama and Performance Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I- Modern after Modernism 19
  • 1- The Rise and Fall of the Character Named Character 21
  • 2- Pattern over Character the Modern Mysterium 36
  • 3- Counter-Stagings Ibsen against the Grain 52
  • Part II- Theater after Modernism 67
  • 4- Signaling through the Signs 69
  • 5- Another Version of Pastoral 92
  • 6- When Bad Girls Play Good Theaters 108
  • 7- Theater as Shopping 128
  • 8- Postmodernism and the Scene of Theater 144
  • Reviews and Articles 1979-1993 Reports from an Emerging Culture 159
  • Notes 199
  • Index 218
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