RE-DRESSING THE CANON by Alisa Solomon

RE-DRESSING THE CANON

Essays on Theatre and Gender
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Theater critic, dramaturge, and Village Voice staff writer Solomon (English and Theater/City Univ. of New York Graduate Center) offers a fresh, authoritative view of the canon as the seat, not the nemesis, of postmodern gender theory. Solomon pairs close textual readings of gender complexity in Shakespeare, Ibsen, Aristophanes, and Brecht with reviews of avant-garde productions that unleashed what she considers the inherent trangressiveness of these writers' works. While feminist and queer theorists see only a reinforcement of heterosexism and phallocentricity even in the canon's most ribald gender-bending, Solomon sees real subversion--an invitation to question gender norms. In her analysis of the British theater troupe Cheek by Jowl's all-male production of As You Like It, the Mabou Mines role-reversed King Lear (Lear is played by a woman), the Yiddish King Lear, Charles Ludlum's Hedda Gabler, and the Split Britches' deconstructed A Streetcar Named Desire, Solomon sees a proper rediscovery of all the ``polymorphous potential'' endemic to these plays. To Solomon, these iconoclastic productions were neither as inventive nor as disrespectful as we might think. On the contrary, they did justice for the first time to the richness of these classic texts. The crusty greats deserve more credit than we've given them, argues Solomon. They understood quite well, as did the Puritans who banned their art in Cromwell's England, that theater, as imitation, as performance, as self-consciousness, as irony, is tailor-made for revolt against the social shackles, not just of gender, but of class, race, and sexuality. Solomon is convincing and refreshingly nondogmatic. She has the knowledge, style, and suppleness of mind to make bedfellows of revisionists and dead white males. Her dissent is helpful, not dismissive, inclusive, not harsh. This invaluable contribution to the canon wars is rare manna from academia. (12 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-415-15720-X
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Routledge
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997