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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Performance, Identity and Immigration Law: A Theatre of Undocumentedness


Immigration issues carry multiple opportunities and problems manifesting differently for number of groups, creating tension, inspiring passion, and thus rendering these issues politically difficult. As people move across borders into the United States, legal frameworks divide individuals into reductive categories of documented immigrants and undocumented non-citizens. Gad Guterman, Head of the Theatre Studies and Dramaturgy Program at the Conservatory Theatre of Arts at Webster University, provides in his first book a detailed discursive analysis of theatrical works to illustrate how legal language defines identity of those dealing with situations of undocumentedness. Guterman has spent nearly 20 years writing, directing and teaching theatre, focusing on relationships between theater and the law. The object of analysis in this book is a “theatre of undocumentedness”, a theatre movement with many historical antecedents that has been circulating through small playhouses in southern border cities, Chicago and New York City since 2006. He addresses a number of the more well-known pieces that he considers to fit into the theatre of undocumentedness—by Josefina López, Culture Clash, Arthur Miller and Michael John Gárces, among others.

Guterman’s compelling examination the discursive aspects relating to labor, family, sexuality and gender identity in correlation to legal statuses present in the theatre of undocumentedness illustrates the realities that exist between illegal and legal, citizen and non-citizen on the contemporary American stage. In creating performative sphere of existence, these theatrical performances often succeed not just in calling attention to, but also in subverting legal identities, opening categories of identification to encompass the variety of ways in which individuals exist in the world.

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