Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama

By Marc Maufort | Go to book overview

( 1985)--the Wooster Group has not previously experimented with Asian techniques. Without changing the text, O'Neill's Jungian expressionism becomes both a post-modern, post-colonialist commentary and a daring intercultural exploration of classic Noh dramaturgy mediating past and present, Black and White, male and female. Jones is portrayed by Kate Valk, a white woman in black face. Valk's voice also portrays the native woman at the start of the play. Smithers and all other characters are portrayed by Willem Dafoe, either on stage or as a disembodied, electronically mediated voice or video image. Smithers becomes the waki (listener) to the tortured shite (protagonist) Jones. As the past unfolds, the ghosts of the self from which Jones is exiled emerge. The raised square stage resembles a Noh stage, actors dance at key moments and circle the stage like Noh actors on long journeys. Costumes have a certain unspecified but non-referential Japanese flavor. Most audiences would miss the intercultural connection. As a fusionist and scholar of Japanese theatre, I am stunned. I wonder if it is only in my mind. Then a glimmer of light catches my eye, and I turn my head. High above and behind the audience, so that only the actors can see, hangs a video monitor. On the monitor, silently playing for the benefit of the actors, is a sequence from the Noh play Matsukaze!

In Pavis' phrase, the "ideological function within the mise-en-scène" is a stunning fusionist response in which the very concept of "source" and "target" cultures vanishes. Bharucha's concerns are answered as the director avoids "shaping the meanings of 'other cultures"' by re-positioning culture and style into a unified codification signifying all of humanity while celebrating the diverse elements of inspiration. This is exhilarating theatre: true to O'Neill, true to Noh, true to contemporary America.


Acknowledgment

Research assistance for this project was partially funded by a grant from the UCLA Academic Senate Research Committee.


Notes
1.
Interculturalism is an artistic strategy in which the traditions of contrasting cultures consciously appear in a single work; multiculturalism is a social strategy seeking the full inclusion of art works created by and representing artists of diverse cultural heritage.

-53-

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