The Play’s the Thing | July 2013

Badiou, Alain. The Incident at Antioch/L’Incident D’Antioche: A Tragedy in Three Acts/Tragédie en Trois Actes. Columbia Univ. (Insurrections: Critical Studies in Religion, Politics, and Culture). 2013. 224p. tr. from French by Susan Spitzer. bibliog. notes. ISBN 9780231157742. $69.50; ISBN 9780231157759. pap. $22.50; ebk. ISBN 9780231527736. $17.99. THEATER

Mark Twain wrote that a particular religious tract produced in America was “chloroform in print.” No more apt description may be made of this work by contemporary French philosopher Badiou (Being and Event). Drawing upon events early in the history of Christianity, as well as the student-led riots in Paris in 1968 and, at the same time, incorporating elements of Paul Claudel’s La Ville, Badiou’s prose is impenetrable to anyone for whom Cixous and Deleuze are not constant companions. Most grievously of all, the text fails to engage an audience: “Is working-class thought, which the world has been awaiting for 200 years and having doubts about for the last 20, just a sick man startled awake from a long sleep by the collapse of the nursing home roof?” Characters speak at each other or declaim downstage center. Truly, it reads like bad Brecht. The volume includes the French version on facing pages and comes with scholarly apparatus: introduction, endnotes, bibliography, and an interview. VERDICT For French and/or philosophy departments but not for the stage.—Larry Schwartz, ­Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Moorhead

Library Journal Reviews starred review James, C.L.R. Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History. Duke Univ.2013. 248p. ed. by Christian Høgsbjerg. ISBN 9780822353140. $23.95. THEATER

This is the first edition of a play that hasn’t been seen since its production in 1936; it was lost in plain sight in the archives of the University of Hull, England. That production, in London, featured Paul Robeson and was the first time in England that black professional actors starred in a play by a black playwright. In an excellent introduction, Christian Høgsbjerg notes that James (Beyond a Boundary) was motivated to write a play about Haitian Revolution leader Toussaint Louverture for two reasons: “vindication of black accomplishments in the face of racism” and the promotion of the struggle “for West Indian sovereignty and self-determination.” The language of the play is rich, not ponderous, but modern audiences may be dismayed by the sheer number of words; it was clearly written before the current trend of rapid cuts and nonverbal cues took hold. This script is from a bygone age; its value lies not only in its importance as a document of theater history but also as a crucial addition to the canon of works about the Caribbean. VERDICT This work would be difficult to stage these days (it boasts an especially large cast), but it should not be ignored by groups that can marshal the resources. Historians of the Caribbean will find it essential.—Larry Schwartz, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Moorhead

Nabokov, Vladimir. The Tragedy of Mister Morn. Knopf. 2013. 192p. tr. from Russian by Thomas Karshan. ISBN 9780307960818. $26. THEATER

The publication of this title is sure to make the hearts of Nabokov enthusiasts beat a little faster. Written between 1923 and 1924 when he was 24, this play was never performed or published during the author’s lifetime (1899–1977). It first saw the light of day in a Russian edition published in 1997; this translation is its first appearance in English. Karshan’s introduction assures readers that they may see, in the play, the literary beginnings of the novelist-to-be. This five-act piece addresses, in a fantastical way, the nihilism of the Russian Revolution. Its characters speak in iambic pentameter, with enough pauses (indicated by ellipses) to populate a new Harold Pinter play. The text lies rather flatly on the page and does not eagerly engage the reader. On the stage, though, with all the tricks available to an ambitious director, crew, and cast, it has a chance at being charming and accessible. VERDICT Necessary in order to complete the Nabokov collection but of secondary importance otherwise. Those seeking new monologs for auditions or competitions will find it useful.—Larry Schwartz, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Moorhead