This important volume is “the first full-length cooperative study published by the ATINT Research Collective.” Joining Judith Weiss and Leslie Damasceno in this effort are Donald Frischman, Claudia Kaiser-Lenoir, Marina Pianca, and Beatriz Rizk, all members of the Executive Committee of La Asociación de Trabajadores e Investigadores del Nuevo Teatro. These scholars have provided a very valuable introduction to the evolution of Latin American theater and particularly the development and dissemination of El Nuevo Teatro Popular. El Nuevo Teatro had its greatest activity during “the past three to four decades,” and the authors argue that this movement cannot be separated from the rich diversity of Latin American theater.
The authors are well aware of the pitfalls of covering so vast a topic. They attempt to be specific wherever possible in reference to the country under consideration. Rather than discuss their topic in strict chronological terms, they weave an interesting tapestry that focuses on the major theatrical movements from country to country, from pre-Columbian times through the conquest and up to the present. They introduce the reader to early chronicles of theatrical events in countries as diverse and distant as Peru and Mexico, sometimes giving the impression that they were singular. A close reading, however, will ultimately liberate the reader from making gross generalizations about the theaters of Latin America.
The premise of this study is that El Nuevo Teatro was not born in a vacuum. Therefore the first half of the book analyzes the distinct kinds of theater that have been chronicled over the centuries, beginning with pre-Columbian religious ritual, dance, and other forms of entertainment. The book’s synthesis of colonial theatrical activity is very useful, as is its discussion of liturgical, missionary, and secular drama, although in some cases the reader is left without sufficient footnotes to seek further information. The bibliography is very thorough, and it will be extremely useful to any student of Latin American theater. This is an overview that effectively opens up many new areas of discussion.
The information about El Nuevo Teatro is most valuable, particularly because each of the authors has had personal interaction with the playwrights, groups, and directors under consideration, and their expertise is most welcome. However brief, the final discussions of exemplary groups are lucid, and will be inspirational to other groups intent on producing theater for social change. Most important, this volume will enhance the analysis and discussion of Latin American theater in English-speaking circles, exposing a “new world” of theater unknown to most North American theater scholars and practitioners.