Dark Matter

Invisibility in Drama, Theater, and Performance
Andrew Sofer


Dark Matter maps the invisible dimension of theater whose effects are felt everywhere in performance. Examining phenomena such as hallucination, offstage character, offstage action, sexuality, masking, technology, and trauma, Andrew Sofer engagingly illuminates the invisible in different periods of postclassical western theater and drama. He reveals how the invisible continually structures and focuses an audience’s theatrical experience, whether it’s black magic in Doctor Faustus, offstage sex in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, masked women in The Rover, self-consuming bodies in Suddenly Last Summer, or surveillance technology in The Archbishop’s Ceiling.  Each discussion pinpoints new and striking facets of drama and performance that escape sight.  Taken together, Sofer’s lively case studies illuminate how dark matter is woven into the very fabric of theatrical representation.  Written in an accessible style and grounded in theater studies but interdisciplinary by design, Dark Matter will appeal to theater and performance scholars, literary critics, students, and theater practitioners, particularly playwrights and directors.

Dark Matter enables us to think carefully about invisibility and absence in the theater. It’s about performativity, a current fascination of theorists. Sofer writes well about performing ontological uncertainty, and has a broad and comprehensive understanding of drama through the ages and around the world.”
—David Bevington, University of Chicago

“No one, to my knowledge, has undertaken a book-length study of the important phenomenon of unseen objects, people, and actions as Sofer has done, and certainly no one has applied to the phenomenon the rich body of theoretical discourse, drawn not only from theatre, but from the sciences and social sciences…. the metaphor of dark matter is an extremely fertile and provocative one, allowing the development of a kind of dark phenomenological analysis of this artistic process.”
—Marvin Carlson, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Andrew Sofer teaches in the English department at Boston College. He is the author of The Stage Life of Props and Wave, a collection of poetry.

Praise / Awards

  • "Invisibility, Andrew Sofer argues in his complex and compelling Dark Matter, is a structuring principle of theatrical performance. . . . The breadth of Sofer's study is ambitious and invigorating, not simply in the range of case studies, but in the dazzling scope of his archive."
    Modern Drama
  • "Richly learned and originally poised historicism... Dark Matter provides a savvy lens on what Aristotle called opsis and Shaw 'the optics of the theatre': as an art of appearing, of appearances, of making an appearance, theatre depends on the ideological, and often material, presence of everything that remains in the dark."
    Theatre Journal
  • "Andrew Sofer's Dark Matter proves a true tour de force . . . its immense scholarly depth deserves much admiration. . . . supporting research, like the entire volume, provides criticism of the first order—informed, reasoned, careful, and inventive. The book is decisively rich—and especially strong in its poet-critic’s sense of analogies between scientific and humanistic studies. This publication, albeit daunting in its amazingly vast range, is surely also exciting for that very extensiveness of endeavor."
    —Jeffrey B. Loomis, Text and Presentation
  • “'Dark matter' is the name that physicists give to material that is irregularly distributed around the visible universe but is itself undetectable. . . . Andrew Sofer’s ingenious and somewhat playful book adopts this concept as a metaphor for theatre. It is a good idea: the theatrical significance of the invisible is often over-looked, but a moment’s thought confirms how central it is."
    —Peter Womack, Theatre Survey
  • "Invisible, but exerting a gravitational force on all stage elements, dark matter is more than a textual device; it is 'woven into the fabric of theatrical presentation.' Sofer's book is impeccably researched, with a glossary of terms that invites the reader to explore this methodology beyond the six studies offered here. . . . Initiating his final section with a discussion of a medieval visit to the sepulchre in which Christ's body is revealed to be absent, Sofer compresses his analysis until what is left is dark matter itself."
    ---Dean Wilcox, Theatre Research International
  • "Sofer draws on the scientific writings of astronomers and physicists to offer a compelling reading of what is unseen onstage, and therefore usually left unexamined."
    --Jennifer L. Airey, OUP Year's Work in English Studies

  • "Well-written and well-argued, [Dark Matter] certainly deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone seriously interested in how drama works."
    --Fran Teague, Comparative Drama

  • "Informative and useful...The scope and variety of examples explored in Dark Matter defy summary even while they invite it. Just as impressive is Sofer’s integration of close reading and dramatic criticism with the methods of theatre history and performance studies — as promised in the subtitle, drama, theatre, and performance are all deftly engaged. Persuasively illustrated throughout by analogies drawn from the modern sciences, Dark Matter should persuade its readers that, in a manner not so different from Marlowe’s superstitious audience, we continue to inhabit a theatre and a universe that is swayed by the invisible."
    --Lawrence Manley, The Drama Review

  • Finalist, George Freedley Memorial Award, Theatre Library Association
  • Honorable Mention, Outstanding Book Award, Association for Theatre in Higher Education

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Product Details

  • 242 pages.
  • 1 B&W & 1 color illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02968-6

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • Doctor Faustus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Rover, Suddenly Last Summer, The Archbishop’s Ceiling, Arthur Miller, Shakespeare, invisibility, theater and performance studies, theater practice