The focus of critical scholarship on contemporary American playwright Naomi Wallace has overwhelmingly been a drive toward theorizing a vision of utopia in her work, frequently finding her plays to be optimistic in resolution. The diversity of critical approaches in prior articles, though complementary, is striking. Perhaps, as Shannon Baley argues, Wallace imagines moments of a feminist "utopia" in which the barriers of "genders, class and sexuality" can be broken down (239). Using examples of non-normative sexuality present in Wallace's drama, Baley focuses on the way that the drama enacts a cultural feminist viewpoint. Perhaps alternately, Wallace paradoxically joins "death wish and life force" to suggest that positive futures are the results of the "haunting ghosts of the past," as Beth Cleary posits using a psychoanalytic critique of the culturally instilled drive toward death (10). Perhaps instead, the author "incite[s] evolution" through the use of a "malleable" "Brechtian continuum of history," as Claudia Barnett claims (166). According to this argument, Wallace is staging revolution whereby she excavates the past to create a more positive present. Though these arguments are mutually exclusive on the basis of inherent theoretical assumptions about the self, gender and sex, all clearly position Wallace as a playwright oriented toward the future with hope. To critics, characters in Wallace's plays seem to be unfailingly imbued with the potential, capacity, and ability for change, for reinvention, for possibility, and it is not the purpose of this paper to either wholly refute these scholars or to resummarize their contributions. Rather, it is my aim to trace an alternate, less hopeful set of cultural influences that Wallace incorporates and responds to dialectically.


Theatre and Performance Studies