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The Plot of the Future: Utopia and Dystopia in Modern Drama.

THE PLOT OF THE FUTURE: UTOPIA AND DYSTOPIA IN MODERN DRAMA. By Dragan Klaic. THEATER: Theory/ Text/Performance Series. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991, pp. viii + 258. $39.50 cloth.

Although Goethe associated the narrative forms (the epic and the novel) with the past, and the genre of drama with the present, modern drama seems to modify this classification. Ibsen's analytical dramaturgy put the stress on the past, Chekhov's plays demonstrate both a nostalgia toward a once pleasant past and the hope in a better future.

The present lost its importance in modern theatre, and, along with the mixture of literary forms and genres, the feature and structure of time became a more complex one.

Dragan Klaic focuses on a neglected aspect of the relationship between time and drama: how the future is depicted in modern drama, From the Hungarian Imre Madach's The Tragedy of Man (1861) in the introduction to the East German Heinet Muller's dramatic oeuvre in the 1970s and 1980s discussed in the last chapter, the book touches upon some seventy European and American plays as examples of predictive theatre. Although utopia and dystopia are frequent topics for literary studies of narrative fiction, this book develops a previously unexamined topic in the dramatic sphere.

Utopia is applied both as a spatial and a temporal notion; dystopia refers to the pessimistic type of predictive drama. The latter term is meant "as an unexpected and aborted outcome of utopian strivings, a mismatched result of utopian efforts--not only a state of fallen utopia but the very process of its distortion and degeneration as well" (3). The tension between ideology and utopia is demonstrated throughout the book.

The plays selected for analysis are discussed not in chronological order, but in thematic groups according to their different images of the future. Chronology gives the structural basis only for part 1 ("Eschatology, Utopia, Dystopia") in which Klaic provides a survey of social ideas about the future from prehistoric societies and ancient civilizations to the twentieth century. The four chapters of part 1 deal with the concepts and images of cyclical future, the Greek sense of time, Jewish messianism and Christian apocalypticism, millenarianism, medieval and Renaissance time images, the idea of progress developed after the French Revolution, and the cults of state and science related to Marx and his followers.

Arriving at the twentieth century, the history of social and philosophical time-concepts is replaced by the treatment of modern drama in the book. The author makes theoretical remarks on how the future can appear in drama and how drama differs from other genres and media forms in its portrayal of aspects of the future. The first modern playwrights he mentions are Shaw and Mayakovsky. Concluding the long introductory survey of part 1, Klaic states that "the futurist setting in drama ... implies an allegorical mode and a conscious detachment of the dramatic situation from its subject matter" (70). Klaic argues that "dystopia could hardly be called a dramatic genre of its own" (71), rather it is a thematic group, having special technical, functional, and intellectual features.

Part 2 ("Dystopian Concerns") explores catastrophic causes, symptoms, and agents. Plays analyzed here are grouped into three chapters: (a) the menace of science, (b) dystopian politics, and (c)) decay, catastrophe, survival. First, works are discussed in which experiments with cells, genes, hormones appear--Illustrated by plays by Canetti, Shepard, and Witkiewicz; the effect of the A-bomb is shown in plays by Durrenmatt and Kopit. Dystopjan politics is explored in the British drama of the 1970s, demonstrated by Barker, Brenton, Bond, and by Peter Weiss's The New Trial. Catastrophic drama is represented by Rozewicz's The Card File, Grumberg's Tomorrow, from any Window .... Bulgakov's Adam and Eve, Bowen's After the Rain, and Harald Muller's The Raft of the Dead. In connection with the last play Klaic claims that "hardly any other play considered in this book presents such a precise and specific dystopian panorama as does The Raft of the Dead" (121).

The third part ("Dramatic Uses of Dystopia") focuses on several minor playwrights. Predictive satire as a common feature gathers into one chapter such extremely different works as Stoppard's Jumpers, Mayakovsky's The Bedbug, Havel's The Memorandum, and Jovanovic's Military Secret. Witkiewicz's catastrophism receives a separate chapter, and is analyzed under the title "The Foreclosure of the Future." The last (twelfth) chapter, entitled "Back to the Future," is both a theoretical summary and an outlook on the recent developments of predictive drama. "It is something of a rarity" (185), says Klaic about the predictive perspective in modern theatre. On the possibility of tragedy as a form of dystopian drama, he declares that "predictive drama based on utopian desires and dystopian fears can hardly approximate tragedy" (189). Recent developments are represented by the dramatic oeuvre of Heiner Muller who removes ideological and utopian elements from the notion of the future.

The virtue of Klaic's book is that it opens up a new perspective both in dramatic studies and in utopian theories by relating these two fields to each other. As the predictive nature of the plays determined the selection, the book draws attention to many forgotten or neglected playwrights whose oeuvres are not part of the major academic canon (like Andrei Bely, Valery Bruisov, Jean-Claude Grumberg, Carl Hauptmann, Georg Kaiser, etc.). On the other hand, the author considers some solar unexplored aspects of the plays of such modern icons as Bulgakov, Witkiewicz, Peter Weiss, Edward Bond, and Sam Shepard.

Although in a list of playwrights on the front inner cover Beckett is included as being discussed in the book, his name appears only in a footnote (237, n. 29) and his plays, including Endgame and Happy Days, are not even mentioned. Another problem of the book is its limited terminology. The same three or four terms are used to create some two dozen types of drama. The variation of these few concepts is not enough to create a well-defined, convincing typology. Although Klaic attempts to mark differences between the types he creates, the result appears sometimes as a mere quibble, varying the terms future, predictive, utopia, and dystopia in the titles of parts, chapters, and paragraphs.


Janus Pannonius University, Hungary
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Author:Muller, Peter P.
Publication:Theatre Journal
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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