Editor's Note

By Weinkrt-Kendt, Rob | American Theatre, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Editor's Note


Weinkrt-Kendt, Rob, American Theatre


IT WAS PROBABLY ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE WE Gen X-ers, who grew up as much with Star Wars and "Doctor Who" as with August Wilson and Tony Kushner, started to get our sci-fi chocolate in our theatrical peanut butter (to borrow a slogan from our '80s childhood). You can see the influence over the past few decades in the work of artists like Gordon Dahlquist, Qui Nguyen, Liz Duffy Adams, Jordan Harrison, Jeffrey Dorchen, Cesar Alvarez, Paul Muffin, and Michael Golamco, among many others, as well as in the plays of five writers who figure in a package of related stories in this issue: Mac Rogers, Madeleine George, Christina Anderson, Anne Washburn, and Jennifer Haley, the last in an in-depth profile by associate editor Diep Tran. Their plays run the gamut from out-and-out genre thrillers to multiverse what-if scenarios, from elegant magical realism to paranoid post-apocalyptica. And that's just stateside--Brits like Philip Ridley and Mark Ravenhill, not to mention masters like Caryl Churchill and Alan Ayckbourn, are known to put science in their fiction (in a memorable coinage courtesy of playwright George from a roundtable discussion with Rogers and Anderson, moderated by Sam Thielman, on p. 30).

Of course, as often happens with this ancient live art, artists who discover something new are usually just uncovering something as old as the stage itself. Much as the art of theatrical projection can be traced back as far as the first use of light and shadow, and so-called "immersive" theatre to Dionysian revels, the craft of conjuring other worlds--whether on Prospero's island or in a factory making artificial people, as in Karel Capek's 1920 play Rossumovi Univerzalni Roboti, to which we owe the word "robot"--is as old as masks and hemateons. Maybe older: The Greeks didn't call their myths "science" fiction, of course. But how different from ancient myths are our own modern-day stories of monsters, mazes, and metamorphoses, really?

Some of today's writers show a self-consciousness about their position as storytellers that may be indeed be new--or at least, is very much reflective of our post-everything age. Anne Washburn's ambitious and troubling Mr. Burns, a post-electric play might be seen as a play about why we engage in the ritual of theatremaking, and about the quasi-religious comfort we seem to get from it, as much as it is a play about pop culture or environmental collapse (it is definitely those things, too). Barry Wisdom's deeply reported feature on a recent Sacramento production begins on p. …

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