- Morris Panych (Author)
Benevolence. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Trina Davies (Author)
Shatter. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Carmen Aguirre (Author)
The Trigger. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
The Trigger stages Carmen Aguirre's own experience of rape by mixing narrative monologue, symbolic gesture, and sound. Its story sequence is poetically associative rather than realist and linear. Five female cast members slide between roles: one woman plays both the central character, Carmen, and her male rapist; the rest play Carmen's cousin and companion during the rape, the policemen who interrogate her, the nurse who cursorily cares for her, her father, her later lovers. A vivid, symbolic set abstracts onstage representation from reality. But the play nevertheless firmly connects its onstage world to the real world. Carmen's monologues tell of her youthful emergence into sexuality, her complicated feelings about the rape, her own and her Chilean-Canadian family's attempts to cope with and to conceal her pain, the dysfunction of her later relationships with men-all with a tone of sincere, autobiographical narration. And they locate her rape and those of her rapist's other victims with a documentary precision, in the Vancouver locations where Aguirre and others were indeed attacked. When it premiered in Vancouver in 2005, Aguirre played Carmen, and Talonbooks's publication retains Aguirre's presence for the playscript by including an authorial preface that begins, "When I was thirteen I was raped by the Paper Bag Rapist." The play provides good teaching support for questions of autobiography, fiction, and located theatre.
The Trigger's staging promises moments of vivid theatricality, and its frankness offers an unsensationalized confrontation with the realities of rape. But these are not unique strengths. In several respects, it recalls Marie Clements' more ambitious play The Unnatural and Accidental Women (premiered 2000). And Aguirre makes a familiar story of the psychology of rape. The many long monologues she uses to tell this story, meanwhile, make for fine reading but potentially leaden theatre. The most novel elements contextualize Carmen's experience in her revolutionary Chilean upbringing. Unanchored from Aguirre's actual life-story, this dimension of the play would feel random and perhaps misfit, but as it is it offers a richly specific, located feminism.
Trina Davies' Shatter dramatizes the Halifax explosion of 1917 by exploring its impact on one household. The play's domestic microcosm encapsulates various forms of the personal suffering and social tension at work in wartime Halifax-post-traumatic stress, grief and worry, prejudice and suspicion-and shows how these were intensified by the explosion. War-widowed Jennie Maclean is traumatized after losing her son and her own eyesight to the blast. German-born Elsie Schultz is attacked and jailed when locals mistakenly blame the explosion on suspected spies. Jennie's daughter Anna is swept into the anti-German hysteria by her persuasive new beau, and her family's longstanding friendship with Elsie gets broken. All three women are frightened and horrified by the explosion's grisly aftermath, as is Anna's beau, a young soldier named Brian. The play also extends beyond the personal scale of these characters' experiences by occasionally converting them into "neutral" members of the Halifax community. As a chorus of "the voices of the town," they chime in together to convey collective hope, confusion, hatred, and mourning.
Shatter's four central characters are believable but stock. Young Anna and Brian's romance in particular feels like war-drama cliché, and some of Davies' dialogue lacks the freshness of the interactions in Kevin Kerr's Unity 1918-another play about an often-forgotten Canadian homefront disaster. Several scenes rely over-heavily on diegesis: characters doggedly narrate their own actions and perceptions. Davies' casting notes call for a musical vocal quality to this narration, which might well convey intense social experience in performance. But Shatter could do more to exploit the resources of theatre to suggest explosion and collective shell-shock.
The Trigger's precisely located autobiography and Shatter's historical narrative earnestly call audiences' attention to documented realities. Benevolence, by contrast, is a Morris Panych play: it is a black-humoured, existentialist fable of obscure morality, where the characters are types of contemporary urban humanity and the setting is abstracted and allegorical.
Benevolence explores the barriers people put up to protect themselves from change and from contact with strangers. It imagines what happens when those barriers are broken: uncertainty, discomfort, intimacy, love, revelation, madness, transfer of power, loss of self. Oswald, a small-minded shoe-salesman, used to ignore Terrence, an open-minded street person; one day Oswald broke pattern and gave him $100. Terrence will not let him forget it, and the play stages their ensuing series of meetings in a squalid little porn theatre, as Terrence seeks to repay Oswald's benevolence by introducing change and intimacy into his life. The results teeter between liberation and chaos. At the play's close, Oswald is homeless and alone, with an unearned criminal record; Terrence has taken over his girlfriend and his apartment. Perhaps Oswald is now wiser. He is apparently not more free.
Panych's script, unlike Aguirre's or Davies', avoids bogging down in diagesis. Rather than by being told, audiences infer what is happening to Oswald's life by listening to the characters cajole and squabble about it, and the dialogue is frequently funny. But the pinched salesman, tight-laced girlfriend, philosophical homeless man, and wise hooker are all tired types. And the plot unravels through the second act, retaining little of the tension or the existential snap of other Panych plays. Oswald asks at one point, "This is some sort of social commentary, isn't it?" We are left to wonder.
- Tributes to Friendship by Elizabeth Greene
Books reviewed: Crackpot by Rachel Wyatt and The Day Marlene Dietrich Died by Rachel Wyatt
- Re-imagining a Myth by Dorothy Shostak
Books reviewed: The Gwendolyn Poems by Claudia Day
- Cultural Transmutations by Albert Braz
Books reviewed: For Joshua: An Ojibway Father Teaches His Son by Richard Wagamese, The Setting Lake Sun by J. R. Lévillé and S.E. Stewart, and The Great Gift of Tears by Heather Hodgson
- Courtepointe dramatique by Sylvie Bérard
Books reviewed: Le théâtre à Québec au début du XXe siècle: Une époque flamboyante by Christian Beaucage and Théàtre, multidisciplinarité et multiculturalisme by Chantal Hébert and Irène Perelli-Contos
- Le Théâtre d'André Paiement by Alain-Michel Rocheleau
Books reviewed: Les Partitions d'une époque. Volumes 1 et 2 by André Paiement
MLA: Aguirre, Carmen, Banting, Sarah, Banting, Sarah, Banting, Sarah, Davies, Trina, and Panych, Morris. Social Commentaries. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #201 (Summer 2009), Disappearance and Mobility. (pg. 132 - 134)
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