- Steve Pirot (Editor)
Nextfest Anthology II: Plays from the Syncrude Next Generation Arts Festival. NeWest Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Brian Kennedy (Editor)
The Baron Bold and the Beauteous Maid: A Compact History of Canadian Theatre. Playwrights Canada Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Neta Gordon
These two books look in opposite directions: Baron Bold and the Beauteous Maid provides a wide-ranging collection of necessarily truncated scenes culled from plays spanning a 400 year history of theatre in Canada, while the Nextfest Anthology II contains five plays, written and performed by young and emerging artists, that premiered at Edmonton’s edgy Syncrude Arts Festival between 2001 and 2005. Though both collections offer a seemingly eclectic array, their editors, Brian Kennedy and Steve Pirot respectively, have curated selections according to perceptible and constructive principles, attempting to demonstrate how Canadian theatre, of old and of new, functions as historical, political, and/or social commentary. Further, both collections appear directed at, and will likely appeal to, the same groups: high school and college teachers of drama, especially those with cross-curricular designs, and their students, especially those on the lookout for contextually rich and theatrically diverse material.
Kennedy explicitly identifies his intended audience and his project in the prologue, asserting that Baron Bold “attempts to present the teacher of English or Drama with a simple introduction to Canadian theatre history,” and, in doing so, demonstrates the logical development of Canadian theatre, its engagement with the social framework, and its national distinctiveness. To better establish his case, Kennedy provides background information, not only about the performance history of each play represented, but also about the historical and, often, political context that inspired their original creation and production; Kennedy’s research is thorough and valuable, and the bibliographical notes that follow each of the six chapters, as well as the resource bibliography, offer further research opportunities to the curious teacher or student. At the same time, however, Kennedy clearly intends readers to explore how these short scenes “live” as theatre, providing director’s notes that turn attention to, for example, how in Le Théâtre de Neptune, the first theatrical production of North America, rhythmic shifts are used to indicate character difference; how, in order to catch the spirit of the nineteenth-century parody, The Baron Bold and the Beauteous Maid, actors should “exaggerate with the worst assaults to the realistic style that they can muster”; how to focus attention on the pitch and timing of voices in a scene from Hill-Land, a Canadian modernist attempt to “combine the effects of painting and poetry with the sister arts of music and theatre.”
While the prologue makes mention of English and Drama teachers, Kennedy might also have made reference to History teachers as likely readers of his compilation, as with an eye to establishing a historical context and course, he organizes the 25 scenes included. Most scenes in the first two chapters, “The Velvet Gloves of the Garrison” and “The Baron Bold,” will probably be unfamiliar, with the notable and odd exception of a scene from Sheridan’s The School for Scandal. At first glance, the stress Kennedy places on the overt “Canadianness” of an eighteenth-century garrison prologue or the significance of Sarah Anne Curzon’s nineteenth-century dramas about women and Canadian history suggest perhaps an attempt to force a trajectory of social engagement where none exists. However, his inclusion of scenes from more well-known, and clearly central, plays such as Eight Men Speak, Les Belles Soeurs, and The Ecstasy of Rita Joe suggest the logic of this emphasis.
The final scene included in The Baron Bold and the Beauteous Maid is from Tomson Highway’s Aria, A One-Woman Play in One Act. In his director’s notes, Kennedy draws attention to the different voices that must be developed by the lone actor to delineate the several characters in the play; this theatrical requirement, rooted, the notes suggest, in Highway’s perception of the “contrasting worlds” that define the urban Aboriginal’s existence are similarly taken up by the first play in the Nextfest Anthology, Sheldon Elter’s Métis Mutt. Steve Pirot’s introduction to the play notes that it was developed from a student exercise, and how its successful production crucially depends on the actor’s abilities as an “artistic storyteller,” who is able to move between the “Bad Comedy Sheldon,” who cracks increasingly racist jokes, “Little Sheldon,” a five-year old boy, and various friends, family members and members of the establishment that “Sheldon” encounters. Though the piece is clearly autobiographical, playwright Elter has provided enough theatrical innovation to the telling of his various stories to allow another actor to experiment with these “contrasting worlds.”
The four other plays collected are equally accessible to young actors looking for sharp material. Pirot’s introduction asserts that “Nextfest is sexy . . . [it] celebrates youth, newness, and creativity;” indeed, the plays represented call for actors in their late teens or early twenties who are inclined to stretch themselves creatively. The play written in the most realistic idiom, Janis Craft’s Citrus, is a dialogue-driven exploration of desire and intimacy, in which a newly married couple must confront their attraction to the husband’s twin sister; the language is rich and the series of two-handed scenes full of emotional tension. The play Grumplestock’s, written and originally performed by Kevin Jesuino, Trish Lorenz, and Jon Stewart, is, on the other hand, an experimental piece that depends on the innovative interplay of voice and movement to portray the plight of four marionettes trapped by the tyrannical Grumplestock; the actors must inhabit not only these four characters but other members of the fantastical world of Bowble, a cross between a Dickensian world and sci-fi circus, in order to expose the horrors of class inequity.
Both Code Word: Time, by Leah Simone Bowen, and Rob Bartel’s Beneath the Deep Blue Sky might be said to operate as the latest stage in the trajectory Kennedy outlines in their concern with the social impact of an increasingly technological, post-national world; they are plays about the potentially dehumanizing effect of the paradoxical anonymity and isolation resulting from surveillance technologies, digital worlds, and global identities. Both plays, in particular, require technically innovative staging in order to “live” as theatre, and in order to demonstrate the concerns of the young artists who must function in the world they represent.
- Subversion by Sound by Chris Jennings
Books reviewed: Electra by Anne Carson and Sophocles
- Théâtre et traduction by Alain-Michel Rocheleau
Books reviewed: All the Verdis of Venice by Normand Chaurette and Linda Gaboriau and Down Dangerous Passes Road by Michel Marc Bouchard and Linda Gaboriau
- 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
- Staging Québécité by Pamela V. Sing
Books reviewed: National Performance: Representing Quebec from Expo 67 to Céline Dion by Erin Hurley
- Plays in Theory by Anne Nothof
Books reviewed: Judith Thompson: Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre. Volume Three by Ric Knowles
MLA: Gordon, Neta. Theatrical Landscape. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #193 (Summer 2007), Canada Reads. (pg. 133 - 135)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.