Perspectives on Legends of American Theatre
Eds. Nibir K. Ghosh, T.S.Anand, A. Karunaker
Creative Books, New Delhi, 2009, Pg.305, Price: 600/-
Some years ago Pankaj Mishra’s book Butter Chicken in Ludhiana became a focal text for Cultural Studies in India because it scripted the growing confidence of non-metropolitan India and its ability to voice its aspirations, mobility and success. The publication of Perspectives on Legends of American Theatre edited by Nibir K. Ghosh, T.S. Anand and A. Karunaker is a wonderful celebration of that very theme in an academic and intellectual context.
In a lexical rendezvous of scholars from India, South Asia and the United States, theatre legends of America such as Eugene O’ Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Edward Albee, Amiri Baraka, August Wilson, Ed Bullins, Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange have been critiqued in order to discuss and consolidate a precious social and aesthetic legacy. The editorial preface entitled ‘Setting the Scene’ written with imaginative élan typical of Nibir Ghosh is prefixed with a Rushdie epigraph. It is about the setting of a stage when the autocratic gods stop meddling in human affairs and leave us in an anthropocentric wilderness to which we humans ascribe meaning if we can. It is typically Rushdie of course. In his Commencement Address for Bard College NY, Rushdie had said ‘…as myths tell us, it is by defying the gods that human beings have best expressed their humanity’. And so Ghosh speaks of the heroism of Prometheus who stole fire from the gods, of Sisyphus’s scornful defiance and Satan as the manifestation of the defiant spirit of man in the renaissance. From those times through existential predicaments of alienation and despair, nihilism and symbolic death, playwrights have created their significant works interrogating life; it’s received authenticities and transience, crafting subjectivities sometimes as architects of their destinies and occasionally as victims of it.
The inclusion of Black American playwrights in the form of August Wilson, Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange, Lorraine Hansberry(who unfortunately died very young) and Ed Bullins, each of whom has enlarged what the mind can explore and speak, recasting the possibility of their people’s participation in civic life and explore their aspirations with self-determination and self-respect. It has been tracked in the ghettoisation and in the discriminatory Afro-American experience in Ed Bullin’s Black Theatre by T. S. Anand. The themes of prejudice, segregation and aspirations of emancipation and agency are particularly significant in an Indian context. This context has been explored and by juxtaposing August Wilson’s Fences and the polemic mobility of Datta Bhagat’s Routes and Escape Routes in Sunita Rani Ghosh’s essay. Another interesting essay stressing the emotional need for AfroAmericans to return to a natural, spontaneous living away from the institutional demands of any religion reminiscent of Ayaan Hirsi Ali from a different culture is Anju Bala Agarwal’s Search for Black Female Identity in the Drama of Ntozake Shange. Born Paulette L. Williams, she changed her name to Ntozake meaning ‘she who comes with her own things and Shange meaning ‘she who walks with lions’, after a difficult period of emotional dislocation, depression and an attempted suicide. The biographical perhaps acts as a foundational impulse toward an attempt to forge a female solidarity as an emotional renewal through shared suffering in For Colored Girls.
The two essays that offer the panorama for this volume are those by Jonah Raskin whose love of the theatre and his very readable comments of his experience of it in America and R.K. Bhushan who delineates the history of American dramaturgy. The other essays are on individual dramatists such as Eugene O’ Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Sam Shepard and Edward Albee and critiques of individual plays whose inclusion in the curriculum in most Indian universities makes this book very valuable for academic reference. There are six essays on Eugene O’Neill, four on Tennesee Williams, eight on Arthur Miller, three on Sam Shepard and two each on David Mamet and Edward Albee. Each of these essays has been selected with discriminating editorial skill and scholarship and promises to offer stimulating reading for profit and pleasure.