Magical Realism on Stage

Posted on: March 27th, 2015 by Roundabout

In Little Children Dream of God, playwright Jeff Augustin uses aspects of magical realism, a style that originated in literature and visual art. The framework of his play is apparently realistic, until elements of dream, magic, and supernatural phenomena are introduced.

Magical realism first appeared in the works of Latin American novelists like Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges. Novelists of this style allow fantasy to coexist with realism, so that boundaries are erased and neither reality nor fantasy is subordinate to the other. In theatre, magical realist plays have largely been associated with writers from marginalized groups. The re-envisioning of a “reality” dominated by rationalism is a powerful artistic strategy to challenge the status quo and traditional, Western classifications. Augustin joins a growing number of American playwrights who, over the past two decades, have been exploring the potential of magical realism on stage.

Jose Rivera

Born in Puerto Rico but raised on Long Island, Rivera initially tried to portray the Latino-American experience through kitchen-sink naturalism, but his shift to magical realism lead to his breakout 1992 play, Marisol. In an apocalyptic version of the Bronx, a young woman meets her guardian angel, who warns Marisol that the angels are planning a revolution against a senile God. Rivera recalled the impetus for his shift from realism: “I was exploring my cultural heritage by writing in a new form, employing the myths and legends of my grandparents. That was a real liberation for me.”

Tony Kushner

With an angel crashing through the ceiling, diorama mannequins coming to life, and a hallucinated travel agent, magical events are foundational to Angels in America. Kushner recognized Márquez’s influence over many writers of his generation. His interest in magic on stage came from a desire to push theatre’s capacity beyond “that whole sort of illusion-reality paradigm.” Central to Kushner’s vision is an acknowledgement of the theatrical illusion, as stated in his stage direction for Angels: “[I]t’s OK if the wires show, and maybe it’s good that they do.”


Fort Worth Opera's production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America

Sarah Ruhl

In The Clean House, Ruhl brings elements of fantasy to intrude on the realistic household setting; snow falls indoors, and apples fall from the sky into the living room. A magical lyricism informs Ruhl’s play Eurydice, and she most recently used elements of magical realism and puppetry to explore reincarnation in The Oldest Boy. Ruhl has articulated her interest in theatrical forms that move away from a Freudian-based “realism” on stage: “[I]f you excavate people’s subjectivity and how they view the world emotionally, you don’t get realism.”

A production of Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice at The Pheonix Theatre

Little Children Dream of God is playing at the Black Box Theatre through April 5. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2014-2015 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Little Children Dream of God, Little Children Dream of God, Roundabout Underground, Upstage

  1. Sarah

    March 26, 2015

    That is awesome, it is really interesting how people can take the stage and make it into something really cool and realistic or magical



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