Blesok no. 32, May-June, 2003
Theatre Reviews

The Philosophy of the Creative Work
(Saško Nasev, PhD: “The Seriousness of the Game - the Aesthetics of Contemporary American Theatre”, Époha, 2002)

Emilija Mataničkova

     This book is a redacted version of Saško Nasev’s doctor’s dissertation, presented at the University of Philosophy, in 2001. The title itself induces the knowledge of the great body of the work on themes, dedicated to the aesthetics of the Contemporary American Theatre (CAT), then why did he choose this in particular, and what is it actually all about. Before we go on with our clear and detailed approach, we face the fact that this is, without delusion, the first philosophical and theatrological effort on this subject in our country. That’s the reason why we’re about to take a deeper view inside this work, where for the first time, we have the chance to see the sublime con/text of the American issues up close and personal, and maybe it’ll make us forget it all, considering Bush and his company.

The artistic and aesthetical tools of the thesis

     Nasev is very honest whenever he reaches the limits of the exploration. From this stance, we’re clear about the concise questions: Why did he choose this topic and what is CAT really like, for he sees, and analyses it within the USA way of living, and his own spirally knitted ideologies, inside the theatrical and aesthetical dimension. The CAT is the one that introduces all the new and spiritual tendencies in the contemporary way of life. A theatre that represents a prism for the psychology of mankind; the (copied) ontological source of mankind. Throughout his exploration, in an almost shaman way, Nasev unites the diverse and dispersed visions, of great contemporary thinkers. And that’s why he speaks about/with the aesthetical (philosophical, social, ethical, historical, ideological) meanings of the American theatre. This is where his depth becomes profound, and that is beyond the mere break down of the dramaturgical structure. In a model that is inter subjective and auto referential, and takes over Frances Fukujama’s model of the “habitué of the information”, Nasev’s entire thesis unites different views, marks of the aesthetics and style, existentional, ethical, interpreted and represented artistic attitudes in CAT. Even, if you’d like, he has found an alibi in John Kennedy’s statement, that the culture is big as much as the nation wants her to be!

A compact synthesis on social and cultural history

     Before he approaches the 11 most crucial creative figures in the CAT, following the method of generalizing, through one general and compact synthesis, Nasev covers all relevant, previous, social manifestations/concepts, that made an influence upon CAT’s development. “First, there’s the concept of the colonists, when theatre literally meant popular entertainment and was part of religious rituals. The second, is the concept for theatre organized as an industry, which leads to some kind of artistic industry for making money; the so called commercial-Broadway theatre, derived out of this sense. The third is the concept of representing the philosophical and aesthetical access to the college able (or the “knowledgeable”, academic) theatre, which insists upon aesthetical values and avoids any similarity with the previous concepts.” The first stage represents the appearance of amateurism, inspired from theatre, commedia dell’ arte and the burlesque, as parts of social life; then the furious anger within African-American slaves rituals and the very beginnings of jazz – the music well known today. The second stage, which is closely connected with the Anglo-Saxon’s tradition, is oriented towards transforming art into professionalism. Here, “the commercial American playwriting is relieved from transcendence and forced intellectualism”, and begins its full-blooded realistic way of performance, the narration in a straight line, and the impulsiveness among the characters. The third stage is the institutional theatre versus the puritan, amateur and commercial theatre. Those were the days for aesthetical experiments. Sasko Nasev sublimes this stage, with all the historical events, dates, appearances which, without any doubt create the social and artistic pyramid, and not pure facts only. Using them all, he creates a chronological and diacronical story, a polygon of information connected with all its diagonals. Starting from here, very smoothly, he makes a connection between the facts: since the 16-th and the 17-th century, the Americans became obsessed with the French and Spanish playwriting; theatrical dances were fashionable, also people’s interpretation of religious miracles; in the year 1702, Benjamin Coleman wrote the first American play “Gustavus Vasa”; 1703/04 is the period of the very beginnings and cultivation of American theatre, altogether with the professional British actor Tony Aston and his troop, who performed pieces about the artist and the poet, or the so called decadent themes. Using Nasev’s words, Aston was called a ‘vagabond’, and it’s meaning nowadays equals with ‘subculture’, a realm where new spiritual, philosophical and ethical horizons arise; the theatre repertoire was founded at Southwark Theatre, the American classical works, the mimesis, and the enjoyment as an educational principle; the author Thomas Forest in his work “The Disappointed”, initiates the need for individuality (for the colonists) and their engagement. In the 18-th century: the intention for distorting all life irregularities in the world of dramaturgy; the appearance of the musical, as a recognizable American theatre form; for the first time they induced the “Negro” character/type, as a synonym for the empathic tendency in art, and coming along with that, the dramatisation of (such) prose: “Uncle Tom’s cabin”; next we could also find out that, the actress Lillian from Jersey started the usage of costumes and scenery for the first time in Washington (while in Europe, the theatre stages were still immovable).

About the world of the American theatre contemporaries

     The CAT was established with Eugene O’Neil’s appearance as a playwright. Nasev, riding fast, but clear upon the American socio-cultural trail, didn’t leave out the conditions (the new technologies, inventions) of the twentieth century, but he connected them with the hard (dark) life of this genuine author. With his plays, O’Neil induces the irony towards his own tragedy, or, the actual happenings from the dark pages, the sexual repression, the false puritan morality, and the violence. He brings out all the subjects upon civilisation matters: about the types of men and women, about the new illnesses in the society. O’Neil was the first to bring the Americans the feeling of nostalgia. In O‘Neil’s world, the woman is the pillar of the house, which is torn mad by alienation and solitude. The animals are talking, the expressionism lives, and we could also sense the existentiality.
     In the Tennesy Williams part, we learn from Nasev’s investigation, that Rockfellers were still patrons of the arts at the time, and they gathered the gifted to create in New York. From that moment on, Tom becomes Tennesy Williams, with a remark: A Jew, though very nice! The tone of lyricism, new intellectuality and individuality were the things he brought to playwriting. The way Nasev talks is, as if he were there at the place (though he still keeps his reserve full of certainty), he knows details of great importance for Tennesy’s story. Williams picked the company of his homosexual friends, and then brought freedom out on the stage. Sexual madness, themes on incest. Williams prefers short lines, southern dialect, he doesn’t care much about the mimetic type of theatre, nor about the vices of his contemporaries. Nasev describes the ethical value of his engagement, as transmoral.
     Arthur Miller’s ethical limitation. His dramaturgy finds its roots in the dramaturgy of the Antique, and he also follows the principle of characterisation. Nasev finds Miller’s dramaturgy philosophical, where all attitudes against the social evil meet (the fury of WW1). He realistically and literally indulges and orients towards his new types of contemporary dramatis personae (surgeons, detectives, free-lance salesmen) – the mirrors of the new world. Inside his world, Miller looks for the connection between the egocentric and his neighbourhood, only to find justice. His style is mimetic; he never dealt with commercial materials, but he always performed the role of the moralist, constantly having love for his country. At the ending of the part for this magnificent personality, Nasev adds this up: Just like any other author, A. Miller also makes an exception in his artistic background, so, after his failed marriage with Marilynn Monroe, he tried to look romantic…
     The Method (Lee Strasberg) made the biggest influence upon American actors and theatre, and the most representative world of Marlon Brando, James Dean, Jane Fonda, Robert de Niro, Al Pacino… The Method has its roots in Stanislavski’s system. Lee Strasberg puts an emphasis upon the emotional and the affective, leading the actors into their own search for the written subtext, which is the same thing his guru insisted upon. The basic element in his study is the subjective way of seeing, the (actor’s) inner life, and the concept made upon hypothetical emotions, as well as the intensity and practice of the emotional memory. Nasev thinks about this method as: a model, which eliminates all the anxiety, the intellectualisation, and all the unnecessary psychology in the dramatical expression, or, as Strasberg puts it, where the actor feels comfortable. The author suggests, that this method should be understood as CAT’s phase, as a socio-historical position, as a form of the American culture, in context of the time they belong to. By accepting this model in the western movies, at the end of the sixties, the disruption of the model of the Method began.
     The European Theatre of the Absurd, and the psycho-socialisation influenced the appearance of Edward Olbie, who searched for new expression. His themes are anti-materialistic, about the action as a metaphor, about getting lost inside the themes, or the alienation as the basic concept.
     The real avant-garde theatre begins with the Living Theatre (in the 50-s). It follows the idea for non-verbal theatre, and visions for the entirely new language for the scene, from Antoinen Arto’s book “The theatre and its double”, which was the bible for the Living people (Julian Beck, Judith Malina). They lived inside the theatre action, within the ritual form of spectacle, so this hippie-commune before the hippies, had their political engagement, opening such questions as feminism, death penalty, freedom for sexual orientation, and by organising independent civil inniatives. In this sense, their performances and happenings were efforts to dramatize the libido and spontaneity, in the context of reality and creativity. Nasev explains this theatre as a form of ethnic theatre.
     One of the most remarkable artistic figures is Robert Wilson, who might be called citizen of the earth, because of his artistic nature. About the art of his life, Nasev gives us perhaps the most compact material, with enough content to fill up thorough theoretical reviews, and our few sentences only, wouldn’t explain it much. (About Robert Wilson, you might check The Shine, 32.)
     With his ”jazzy scraping with words”, Sam Shepard, the American playwright, is depicted as a “person seriously in love with popular myths and the American culture, with certain ingenious nostalgia for the innocence lost, for the time when living in America was a whole lot easier”. And more: today, he’s the only American shooting a film in Baghdad, and at the same time, he’s one of the most desirable screen writers in Europe.
     Nasev approached Richard Schechner, the greatest figure of theatre-theory-ritual, by comparing him with his contemporaries, the Living people and Peter Shuman’s “Bread and Puppet” theatre. His cultural dimension unites the idea of the performance, the movement on stage and the stage time. Nasev traces Schechner down, following the aesthetical, philosophical and anthropological dimension of his development.
     The female subjects in CAT, connect with Maria Irene Fornes. She joined the second feminist’s wave in the fight for human rights, right after the wave in Hollywood in the 30-s, named as a neo-left wing movement. Melancholic irony, woman’s privacy on stage, sexual asylum. She’s a woman conceptualist (Nasev); documentaristic theatralisation, called phenomenology of the existence, articulated with new stylised gestures and emotions. Fornest promotes the realm of the multicultural theatre in America, and is the leading name of the woman’s theatre movement.
     David Mamet
is the last name presented here, along with the dramaturgical reality he denotes, especially the violence as a phenomenon and its explanation, and his constant search for a place where he could input the American dream. His characters are written as if they’re actors. They are the victims of the language they speak, manifesting paranoia and obsession, because of money and sex.
     Nasev’s objective conclusion about this thesis, is that beside Hollywood motion pictures, the CAT got its international reputation for extending America’s cultural achievements, with its top aesthetic performances, backed up with the most consistent science. And that also today, the CAT deals with political and relative form of theatre, mostly through performance, about the animal rights, homosexual rights, ecological and human rights.
     Throughout his entire thesis, Saško Nasev carries the scent of the cultural, geo-political and anti-globalisation stances.

Translated by: Arna Šijak

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