Richard Maxwell and the Paradox of Theatre

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Both academic and popular critics identify something paradoxical in the work of Richard Maxwell and the New York City Players, in which there is a disparity between the emotional content of Maxwell’s plays and the company’s distinctively “flattened” mode of acting. This paradox is often expressed in terms of an opposition between reality and artifice, and attempts to resolve it suggest that Maxwell is aiming at a higher form of the “real” through his artificial style. In this paper, I use selections from various interviews with Maxwell to argue that his interest lies not in attaining on-stage “reality” through the transcendence of artificiality, but in maintaining a mode which is simultaneously real and artificial. Markus Wessendorf has likened Maxwell’s work to Hans-Thies Lehmann’s description of “postdramatic theatre,” but I suggest that the paradoxical experience which Maxwell evokes might go much further back, to Diderot’s 1773 Le paradoxe sur le comédien.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-21
Number of pages14
JournalPlatform: Journal of Theatre and Performing Arts
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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