A Dramatic Life
Reviewed by Shannon Hengen
Literary critic Sherrill Grace's study of Pollock's life and work is capacious. At 480 pages, including three major sections, four appendices, a thirty-six page bibliography, notes, and index, the book contains material of invaluable use to theatre scholars. Grace assumed the daunting task of recording Pollock's accomplishment within wider Canadian contexts--cultural and political--in an effort to counter typical Canadian ignorance of our history and neglect of our talent.
The book's three large parts follow Pollock's life chronologically. Crucial shaping events in the young woman's life are detailed in early chapters and returned to often throughout. An epigraph to Chapter 9 "Still Making Theatre" captures succinctly Pollock's approach to dramatic writing, in her own words: "Meaning is derived from the act of telling the story. Meaning is not derived from living the story." We might say the same about Grace's life of Pollock: her telling of it gives it the meaning that Grace judges it deserves.
To chronicle the making of twenty plays over some forty years, Grace adopts a storytelling style, one that we imagine she chooses not primarily for the literary critics who will read this book but rather for the theatre practitioners; that is, Grace attempts to tell Pollock's career dramatically, including meticulously detailed production histories of every script. Tales of successful and failed collaborations, so integral to the theatre world, abound.
Discussion of each play follows a pattern of outlining its genesis, then describing the process of bringing it to the radio program or the stage or into print and surmising its possible roots in Pollock's past experience or present engagement in issues (or both together). These are accompanied by contemporary reviews and finally Grace's own textual analysis. Those who know Grace's work as a literary critic will appreciate especially those analyses. But given her apparent choice to write for the theatre world of which Pollock is an integral member, she keeps textual analysis to a minimum that may disappoint literary critics.
Making Theatre is compiled with utmost care, an obvious marker of which is that we will find no typographical errors in its many pages dense with words. It is nothing less than encyclopaedic in its information. More, Grace has taken pains to clarify her point of view as a biographer, her relationship with her human subject, and her theoretical understanding of the genre of life writing as a whole. We come to the closing pages of this book with a keen sense of one woman's appreciation of the personal and public achievements of another's, an impressive and lasting testament to them.
Pollock is without doubt a central Canadian female playwright. Completely versatile as--at different times and in different places--an actor, theatre manager, artistic director, lecturer, and of course writer for the stage (and radio), Pollock and the development of our own Canadian theatre cannot be separated. Grace's Pollock has reminded audiences throughout her long career that we abdicate personal responsibility-that is, we identify ourselves as powerless-at the cost of our hearts and minds. Her reminder should call us to heed developments in our cultural and political milieus, participate in them, and act on them.
Pollock succeeds in showing Canadian audiences to themselves in her dramatic writing that includes murder mystery, political and social history, and family chronicle, among other forms. With Grace's study in hand, we now have ample evidence of that success.
- Grasping Ondaatje by Sofie De Smyter
Books reviewed: Michael Ondaatje: Distance, Clarity and Ghosts. An Analysis of Ondaatje's Writing Techniques Against a Background of War and Buddhist Philosophy. by Joan Elizabeth von Memerty and Michael Ondaatje by Lee Spinks
- McLuhan Redux by Christopher Keep
Books reviewed: McLuhan, or Modernism in Reverse by Glenn Willmott and Virtual Realities and Their Discontents by Robert Markley
- A Treasure Trove for Theatre Lovers by Gordon Gamlin
Books reviewed: Love + Relasianships Volume 2: A Collection of Contemporary Asian-Canadian Drama by Nina Lee Aquino and Love + Relasianships Volume 1: A Collection of Contemporary Asian-Canadian Drama by Nina Lee Aquino
- Frye's Critical Commentary by Graham Nicol Forst
Books reviewed: Northrop Frye on Literature and Society: 1936-1989. Collected Works of Northrop Frye. Vol. 10 by Robert D. Denham and The "Third Book" Notebooks of Northrop Frye: 1964-1972. Collected Works of Northrop Frye. Vol. 9 by Michael Dolzani
- Reversing the Spotlight by Len Falkenstein
Books reviewed: Establishing Our Boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism by Anton Wagner
MLA: Grace, Sherrill and Hengen, Shannon. A Dramatic Life. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #201 (Summer 2009), Disappearance and Mobility. (pg. 167 - 167)
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