“Is Anybody Paying Attention?”: Breast Cancer on Stage in the Twenty-first Century

Marta Fernández-Morales, University of the Balearic Islands
Vol. 32, No. 2/Vol. 33, No. 1 (Fall 2013/Spring 2014), 129-146

Developed as a branch of the women’s health movement, the breast cancer movement enjoyed a peak of visibility in the 1990s. Within it, women turned from patients into (im)patients, from docile bodies into subjects of their own stories. Feminist theater at the time found a way to participate in the debate about health, and plays about “female” illness like My Left Breast, The Waiting Room, or Buying a Brassiere brought to the foreground the gendered discourse of cancer. The first part of this paper focuses on 1990s autoperformances about breast cancer, with Linda Park-Fuller’s A Clean Breast of It (1993) as a case study. Moving into the twenty-first century, the second half proves the existence of a thematic continuum from autoperformance to the experimental drive of plays like Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House (2004). This work contributes to the debate opened by Elaine Aston and Geraldine Harris in their volume Feminist Futures?, which examines the need for feminist theater in the new millennium. Even in the postmodern context, gender-conscious drama continues to be necessary and a valid tool for consciousness raising about issues of inequality, including biopower in medical discourse.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]