This essay explores theatrical drama alongside aspects of religious dimensionality David Tracy analyzes in terms of limit experience, limit language, and limit questions. The claim is that metatheatrical forms can correlate with limit dimensions, a correlation which may prove as pertinent as ritual for linking drama with religious experience, thought, and practice. Here, metatheatre and limit dimensions are further defined in respect to Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play, Our Town
, and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1984 musical, Sunday in the Park with George
. The essay identifies distinct though often overlapping forms of metatheatre: plays or performances that (1) explicitly refer to themselves, or (2) represent theatrical or theatre-like works within their stories and expressed worlds (e.g., plays within plays), or (3) dramatize theatre-like and performative aspects of ordinary life. Just as Wilder foregrounds metatheatrical relations to create an impression of the eternal, Sondheim and his collaborators reflect on their work’s ontological conditions of possibility by bringing to life another work, a painting, at distantly separated moments in time. Our Town
and Sunday in the Park
invite us to enter social and ritualized spaces inhabited by commonplace yet archetypal persons; they culminate in moments where the audience is to discern past, present, and future in simultaneous proximity; and with their different contents and forms, they prove good plays for elaborating relations among theatre, limit experience, and religious dimensionality.
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