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Marie Vieux Chauvet’s Theatres: Thought, Form, and Performance of Revolt, by Christian Flaugh & Lena Taub Robles (eds.)

In: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids
Author:
Charlotte Hammond Cardiff University Cardiff School of Modern Languages UK Cardiff

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Christian Flaugh & Lena Taub Robles (eds.), Marie Vieux Chauvet’s Theatres: Thought, Form, and Performance of Revolt. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2018. vi + 250 pp. (Cloth US$ 103.00)

Marie Vieux Chauvet’s Theatres bridges scholarly engagement with Chauvet’s performance oeuvre and the creative adaptation and translation work undertaken by academics. Writing in the turbulent mid-twentieth century in Haiti, Chauvet’s theatre and prose, like the author herself, was made invisible, remaining for decades out of print, untranslated, and neglected by many. As Gina Athena Ulysses puts it, this inspirational project “does the digging” (p. vi). By rendering Chauvet’s work more accessible to a broader audience, the acts of cultural (and linguistic) translation collected here, as Kaiama L. Glover suggests in the After-Words, “render Haiti more legible outside of and beyond the proverbial ‘converted’ ” (p. 234).

In October 2016 Glover and Alessandra Benedicty-Kokken gathered an impressive assemblage of scholars and artists to commemorate the centennial of Chauvet’s birth, which was staged at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center in New York.1 Invited actors brought to life Chauvet’s first, lesser known play, La Légende des fleurs (published in 1946), using Benedicty-Kokken’s superb English translation. Also notable is the actors’ reading of Lena Taub Robles’s translation of Chauvet’s Amour (1968), adapted for the stage by José Pliya in 2007. In the book’s final section, Judith G. Miller and Robles offer invaluable insight into the challenges of the creative process of translation, and what Robles describes as becoming “intimate with two texts” (p. 181).

Editors Christian Flaugh and Lena Taub Robles, self-styled “backstage managers,” have successfully delivered the adaptation of Marie Vieux Chauvet’s Theatres from live event to published text. The first of the book’s four parts, “Gestures of Black and Brown Subjectivities,” unearths the emancipatory potentialities of Chauvet’s writing that function within the rigid stratified racial and gendered hierarchies of Haitian society. Régine Michelle Jean-Charles’s excellent opening essay, “Perceiving the Relationships in Nature: An Ecofeminist Reading of Marie Chauvet’s La Légende des Fleurs,” offers an honest critique of the conservatism of Chauvet’s project, whereby nature mirrors the inequality of assigned social roles, and imagines a more radical ecofeminist rendering of the play. Cae Joseph-Massena’s “Re-Staging the Haitian Revolution Narrative: The Tragic Mulatta’s Dissonance and Eziliphonics in Dance on the Volcano” presents a compelling and insightful “exposition” of the way voice and sound sustain and subvert colonial racialized discourse in Chauvet’s second novel, Dance on the Volcano (1957). In “Dirty Love: Marie Chauvet, Guy Régis Jr, and Enfleshed Performances of Revolting Subjects,” Christian Flaugh intertwines Chauvet with Haitian writer and theater director Guy Régis Jr. through an intricate theorization of characters in revolt/revolting characters (especially women) who engage in daily repertoires of resistance.

In Part Two, “Theatres and Aesthetics: Crossings of her Revolt,” Charlee M. Redman Bezilla applies concepts of the carnivalesque in Chauvet’s Folie, while Stéphanie Bérard explores layers of her-story in La Danse sur le volcan, through on/offstage spectacles of resistance. Bezilla makes a convincing case that madness “opens up a field of potentiality” in Chauvet’s work urging the passive spectator (or reader) to become an “engaged actor” (p. 82).

Part Three, “Actionable Thought, Policing Acts,” questions Chauvet’s creation of complicit performances as covert critique, or perhaps as Guy Régis Jr. puts it, “an act of citizenship” (p. 234). This part includes excellent contributions by Jeremy Matthew Glick on Dance on the Volcano’s diegetic modes of narration, linking Chauvet to the Black radical creative production of Angela Y. Davis, and by Gabrielle Gallo on the crime genre as a tool for oppressed communities to address a power/justice hierarchy in Chauvet’s Birds of Prey, as well as Lucha Corpi’s Eulogy for a Brown Angel, and Iona Pribiag on spectacular displays of power and surveillance in Chauvet’s Colère.

Part Four, “Revolt’s Theatrical Returns,” provides a fascinating portfolio of Chauvet’s theatres in/as translation. Nehanda Loiseau presents a tempting introduction to her project-in-progress adapting Chauvet’s La Danse sur le volcan, Jean Fouchard’s Le Théâtre à Saint-Domingue, and an eighteenth-century etching credited to J.L. Boquet, to imagine materialities in revolt as they rehearse revolution. The final chapter by Benedicty-Kokken loops back to La Légende des fleurs to argue for greater engagement with Chauvet’s first play, while delving into the consequences of Whiteness.

Despite some inaccuracies in the index, this interdisciplinary volume is indispensable for future engagement with Chauvet’s performative oeuvre. Chauvet’s Theatres as event, edited collection, and an intergenerational “collaboratory” (p. 4) of scholars is itself an impressive response to Benedicty-Kokken’s call to “render Chauvet present in our contemporary Global Northern academes” (p. 223).

1

Extracts of the event, including readings and performances, are available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w2f2p6Oyi0.

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