Expressionism and Modernism in the American Theatre: Bodies, by Julia A. Walker

By Julia A. Walker

Even supposing frequently disregarded as a minor offshoot of the better-known German stream, expressionism at the American level represents a severe part within the improvement of yank dramatic modernism. Situating expressionism in the context of early twentieth-century American tradition, Walker demonstrates how playwrights who wrote during this mode have been responding either to new communications applied sciences and to the perceived risk they posed to the embodied act of that means. At a time while mute our bodies gesticulated at the silver display, ghostly voices emanated from tin horns, and inked phrases stamped out the character of the hand that composed them, expressionist playwrights started to signify those new cultural reports via disarticulating the theatrical languages of our bodies, voices and phrases. In doing so, they not just innovated a brand new dramatic shape, yet redefined playwriting from a theatrical craft to a literary paintings shape, heralding the start of yankee dramatic modernism.

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Sample text

Advising actors to copy their lines without punctuation (since printers often err), Sheridan suggests that they study the meaning of the verse to determine where to insert their pauses: “In this way, the sense alone must guide them, in the right use of pauses” (172). BODIES  While he seems to presume that there is only one “right use,” Sheridan effectively opens up the possibility that there are many possible interpretations. That is, given the multivocality of a printed text, the act of reading aloud involves the exercise of interpretive authority.

Noting where the actor inserted his pause and the meanings it deployed, he offers an alternative interpretation. The dash indicates where the actor paused: West of the town – a mile among the rocks Two hours ere noon to-morrow I expect thee Thy single arm to mine. As Sheridan points out, the actor’s pause seems to suggest that the character is walking a mile among rocks which are west of the town. But, as James Quin once quipped, had this been right, the character would have broken his shins for all his walking on the rocks!

What struck critics as new about Booth’s performance style may not have been the mere suspension of his “points,” but their contextualization within a new ethic of performance – one that applied to actor and audience alike. For the key distinction between Heron’s and Forrest’s physically impassioned performances, on the one hand, and Booth’s nuanced characterizations, on the other, seems to be one of class-based habits of bodily comportment. Where Heron and Forrest were often accused of indulging in exhibitions of emotional excess, Booth was usually praised as a veritable model of bourgeois restraint.

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