Lesbian and Gay Plays for Posterity
- Rosalind Kerr (Author)
Lesbian Plays: Coming of Age in Canada. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Sky Gilbert (Author)
Perfectly Abnormal: Seven Gay Plays. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by T.L. Cowan
In her introduction to Lesbian Plays: Coming of Age in Canada, Rosalind Kerr explains one of her reasons for compiling this selection of eleven plays by and/or about lesbians: “As we move increasingly away from any fixed definitions of gendered and sexualized identities towards a queer postmodern Canadian society, it is important to know what part lesbian theatre has played in reflecting these historical developments back to us.” In a similar vein, Sky Gilbert asks, in his introduction to Perfectly Abnormal: Seven Gay Plays, “What has gay identity meant historically, and why is it important—not only to gay men, but to lesbians and transgendered people?” The problem of history is central to both collections under consideration here; both collections seek to document not only plays that are about same-sex desire or the lives of gays and lesbians, but also to consider what work that might have been understood as “gay” or “lesbian” tells us about the historical moments in which these plays were written and produced and, importantly, what they tell us about “post-modern queerness,” and presumably postmodern queer theatre in Canada. Both Kerr and Gilbert fly close to an exasperated tone (with, as Gilbert writes, the “youth of today”), and seem to not have a particularly fulsome sense of what contemporary queerness means in relation to “gay” and “lesbian,” but I am convinced that the critical and recuperative efforts of these collections serve an important purpose. Perhaps it is redundant to claim that these collections are “for posterity”; however, I want to claim here that Lesbian Plays and Perfectly Abnormal are particularly important historical reminders of gay and lesbian theatre of the 1990s and early 2000s because they put on record the ways that gay and lesbian-identified plays, over the course of the two decades covered in these pages, performed the politics and told the stories of gay and lesbian lives in the age of identity politics.
Kerr’s selection of texts, which includes work by Alec Butler, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan, Lisa Lowe, Vivienne Laxdal, Susan G. Cole, Lisa Walter, Kathleen Oliver, Natalie Meisner, Diane Flacks, Alex Bulmer and Corrina Hodgson, was guided by the premise that “these play/performance texts represent lesbian subjects on stage who address themselves to lesbian spectators in the audience” and “that all the texts push the boundaries of representation and its heterosexualizing norms by making the lesbian subject and the desire that circulates around her the focus of attention.” While I found the grouping of plays—into loosely configured categories like “coming out” stories and “fictionalized historical situations”—disappointing and wished that these lesbian plays could have been put into a more animated conversation with each other, overall I agree with Kerr’s assessment that these “playwrights have all contributed to the creation of an alternative canon” that shifts attention away from the heterosexual imperative, and that this collection does chart “certain historically specific moments that represent a range of lesbian experiences over the past twenty years in various parts of Canada.” Kerr’s introductory analyses of each play are instructive, and particularly useful for students. While many of the plays collected here feel a bit dated, that, I think, is the point; biographical notes from the playwrights indicate that many of the authors’ themselves are revisiting this material after a long time. As the first collection of lesbian plays in Canada, this is an excellent and valuable start.
Gilbert’s Perfectly Abnormal makes a specific case for the plays he brings together: his selection process, as his title suggests, was not simply to anthologize plays by and about gay men. It was, rather, to collect plays that “create their own gay worlds” and that do not conform to that “earnest, literalist, family-oriented, good-citizen-minded aesthetics,” which produces “an art which is often boring and indistinguishable from the rest of mass popular culture.” (It must be said that the luxury of this editorial specificity might be understood as a reflection of the historically disproportionate institutional support given to gay male theatre compared with lesbian theatre in Canada.) The plays collected here—by Harry Rintoul, Christian Lloyd, Shawn Postoff, Greg McArthur, Michael Achtman and Greg Kearney—cover a wide formal range and are refreshingly not striving for any kind of moral respectability, or straight intelligibility. While Perfectly Abnormal does not seek any kind of national representation (five of the seven plays were produced in Toronto, the other two in Winnipeg), the central theme of the collection does provide a kind of perverse coherence that lets the texts speak to each other in provocative ways.
- Canadian Theatre: Halcyon Days by Bryan N. S. Gooch
Books reviewed: A Fly on the Curtain by Fred Euringer
- Reality Theatre by Shannon Hengen
Books reviewed: Strategies: The Business of Being a Playwright in Canada by Caroline Russell-King and Rose Scollard and Questionable Activities: The Best by Judith Rudakoff
- The Show Must Go by Neil Querengesser
Books reviewed: Fallen Empires: Lost Theatres of Edmonton, 1881-1914 by John Orrell
- Recent Canadian Shakespeares by Wes Folkerth
Books reviewed: Shakespeare and Canada: Essays on Production, Translation, and Adaptation by Ric Knowles, Free Will by Harold Rhenisch, and Shakespeare's Dog by Leon Rooke
- Designing History by Kym Bird
Books reviewed: Later Stages: Essays in Ontario Theatre from the First World War to the 1970s by Richard Plant and Ann Saddlemyer and Canadian Mosaic II by Aviva Ravel
MLA: Cowan, T.L.. Lesbian and Gay Plays for Posterity. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #212 (Spring 2012), General Issue. (pg. 160 - 162)
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