Clare Wallace, ed. Monologues: Theatre, Performance, Subjectivity.
The publication of a book of essays about the monologue form in theater can be hailed as a most timely enterprise for several reasons. Although this kind of drama is not a new phenomenon since its history dates back to the solo-performances practiced in public places during medieval times, nowadays we witness an unprecedented burgeoning of monological plays worldwide. Not surprisingly, more and more events are organized to parade and investigate the potential of such works for the stage. A town in northern Hungary, Eger, has hosted three festivals across the span of the past few years dedicated to the art of monodrama, where performances were set up by companies largely from the Central and Eastern European region. Critical literature concerning the subject ambitiously discusses the extent to which the monologue form transgresses yet also expands generic boundaries and how far it reflects on fundamental contemporary issues like subjectivity and communication. Should we take its focus primarily on one mental landscape as a sign of alienation, or can it be viewed as involving just the opposite tendency, an increasing need for the return of intimacy to the stage?
Questions like this one generate further questions because, as Clare Wallace's introduction to Monologues: Theatre, Performance, Subjectivity highlights, "from Samuel Beckett's minimalist theatre of interiority, to Philippe Minyana's 'inventories' of everyday speech, to Karen Finley's provocative and political solo performance pieces [there are] radically different types of theatrical monologue" (1). Accordingly, the thirteen essays collected here by authors across nations and cultures offer thirteen ways of addressing a sizable list of examples from the English-, the French-, and the Spanish-speaking contemporary theater as well as an array of relevant theoretical problems.
To establish the foundation for their analysis, several of the contributors agree that the monologue is a language-driven genre and as such establishes the theater of the self with performance at its core, foregrounding subjectivity as protean, unfixed. Especially challenging in this respect is Dee Heddon's essay "Beyond the Self: Autobiography as Dialogue" where the author elaborates on the nature of autobiographical performance and refers to its historical links with women's strife for autonomy (160). In this kind of theater the self sets up a dialogue with the self in a series of performative acts that blur the borderline between monologue and dialogue and renew the genre by opening up traditional distinctions for scrutiny. A well-chosen companion piece to Heddon's is the article "Performing Autologues: Citing/Siting the Self in Autobiographic Performance" by Catharine McLean-Hopkins, which further delves into the characteristics of female autobiography onstage. "Autologue" is a newly coined signifier for the "disclosure of an interior, private world to an exterior, public audience" in the form of monologue that, as this author contends, distinguishes the genre as "a self-narrated performance of the self--a performance practice that both cites the self as remembered iterations [...] and sites the self with the theatrical frameworks of space, time and presence" (186, 194). Combining the two sides of what autobiographical performance reveals about the self "is continually challenged by the presence of the inscription of experience upon the live body" (207), resulting in a dialogue rife with tension and carrying potential to negotiate change.
Among the individual authors whose monological plays the critics not only quote but analyze at some length are Beckett, Sarah Kane, and Bernard-Marie Koltes, all classical writers of the monologue theater in their own right. The essay "'Little is left to tell': Samuel Beckett's and Sarah Kane's Subverted Monologues" by Laurens De Vos, takes a fresh look at obvious examples such as Not I and A Piece of Monologue, introducing Lacan's theory to demonstrate how utterly and irretrievably Beckett undermines Descartes's "cogito ergo sum" formula and presents the gap between self and self. In her "Voicing Abuse/Voicing Gender" Rebecca D'Monte points out Kane's ambitious experimentation with language, interweaving voice "in a way that is designed to fragment character" (224) but placing more emphasis on the body than one finds in Beckett's later work. Koltes, as discussed in the essay by Daniela Jobertova entitled "The Dialogical Monologue and the Monological Dialogue in Dramatic Works by Bernard-Marie Koltes: From Night Just Before the Forests to Roberto Zucco," displays two opposite tendencies regarding the use of language. Across his oeuvre the playwright creates eccentric characters who try out linguistic strategies but without the achievement of meaningful communication. The context, a world where love no longer exists, seems to be largely responsible for this failure in the conclusion of Jobertova (89), which sounds simplifying instead of a more thorough analysis of the (anti)theatrical nature of Koltes's postmodern plays.
Given the uncommon renaissance of the monologue onstage coming from Ireland (and sometimes having its premiere in London) today, especially after Brian Friel's 1979 Faith Healer, the Irish scene is given a thorough treatment by scholars. Eamonn Jordan in "Look Who's Talking, Too: The Duplicitous Myth of Naive Narrative" draws up "four broad strands" to categorize monologues in the contemporary Irish theater, depending on how many characters narrate and how much enactment of the subjective experience takes place in addition to the verbal act (125-26). These categories seem to be applicable to the monologue theater in general and not just to the examples from Ireland. Importantly, Jordan also probes into the actual operation of monologues onstage, claiming that "it is the contestation of that narrative from within or from without which is often the defining attribute: from within, thorough acts of self-betrayal, belated acknowledgement or revision, or from without, by engaging dialogically with a plausible alternative, or by the upgrading of one's narratives, myths, symbols and metaphors, with the aid of another" (153). This allows for the possible critical function of the monologue. Brian Singletons contribution ("Am I Talking to Myself?. Men, Masculinities and the Monologue in Contemporary Irish Theatre") looks at the monologue from the angle of gender, a discourse that has a pressing relevance in contemporary Ireland. For the author, the form "has been the preserve of male writers" (260), in the Irish social context that "has been a particularly poignant battleground between traditional versions of masculinity and new questionings of gender identity proliferating in the fast-paced, global and post-industrial world brought on by the economic success story of the 'Celtic Tiger'" (287). While this holds true, I find it important to point out that the monologue form is deployed by female playwrights as well, for instance by Jennifer Johnston and Elizabeth Kuti, who conclude their narrated stories on a positive note in comparison with the troubled and largely static macho world of some male writers. Perhaps because the act of "contestation" that Jordan describes works better in women's drama?
A couple of the essays address the issue of the role of monological theater in the formation and revision of identity in minority cultures. However, the enunciations bearing on identity questions the cited plays present have a relevance extending far beyond the boundaries of the milieu from which they originated. "Everybody's Stories: Monologue in Contemporary Playwriting from Quebec" by Mateusz Borowski and Malgorzata Sugiera, asserts that the monologue's particular significance for the theater of Quebec lies in its true dialogical potential and operation as "a means of forging communal bonds and at the same time determining the identity of each of the community members" (22). The authors give some background information about the case of theater in Quebec, as do another pair of critics, Jorge Huerta and Ashley Lucas in "Framing the Macho: Gender, Identity, and Sexuality in Three Chicana/o Solo Performances" who begin their paper with references to the Chicana/o theatrical tradition in general. This tradition, as they outline, "has historically addressed social justice issues" which contemporary solo performances readdress now from the viewpoint of "previously marginalised subjectivities within the community" (232), linked with the gay and lesbian experience in particular. The social critique they convey is grounded in and encoded through terms of gender and subjectivity, which makes them representative works not only in their own context but in the global terrain of new theatrical efforts to negotiate rigidified patterns and norms.
Finally, an essay by Johannes Birringer under the title "Interacting: Performance and Transmediality" reminds us that monologue and solo performance in theater tend to interact with newly introduced media practices and forms of technology. Transmedial theater, the critic goes on, "uses a hybrid performance language based on constant mediation and reprocessing of images and voices, a surreal theatre" for which one of Birringer's examples is the productions of Mozgo Haz in Budapest. Mixing various forms of cultural communication this way, he adds, "reflect[s] on the limits of the theatrical system itself" (306). Brand-new methods being used for interrogating not really new, but ever-intriguing issues, the monological theater reflects on itself by means of redrawing the limits of the social space in the light of recent developments.
And there is even more for the interested reader in the volume about Pinter, monologue on the contemporary French stage, and so on. Mapping a territory where both the theoretically grounded approaches and the analytical probings suggest the need for the constant redefinition of signposts, Monologues: Theatre, Performance, Subjectivity is an unquestionably important contribution to drama/theater/performance studies regarding its richness of viewpoints and apparent capacity to inspire further research. For critics, scholars, students, and theatergoers the carefully selected and edited material of the volume promises to remain a valuable asset in spite of the few redundancies and occasionally less fruitful arguments it contains. Elegantly produced by Litteraria Pragensia at Prague University, Wallace's collection is part of a recently launched series that keeps on making itself more and more distinguished through interesting as well as challenging publications like this one. Watching out for future offerings by Pragensia is certainly worthwhile.
University of Pecs, Hungary
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2008|
|Previous Article:||Katie Normington. Modern Mysteries: Contemporary Productions of Medieval English Cycle Dramas.|
|Next Article:||David Thomas, David Carlton, and Anne Etienne. Theatre Censorship: From Walpole to Wilson.|