Queer Retrospectives

  • Rosalind Kerr (Editor)
    Queer Theatre in Canada. Playwrights Canada Press
  • Nairne Holtz (Author)
    This One’s Going to Last Forever. Insomniac Press
  • Susan G. Cole (Editor)
    Outspoken: A Canadian Collection of Lesbian Scenes and Monologues. Playwrights Canada Press
Reviewed by Moynan King

The title of Nairne Holtz’s short story collection, This One’s Going to Last Forever, makes a promise that its characters can’t keep. Each of these brilliantly insightful stories drops intimately into the lives of a series of characters whose passions lead them on a queer search for love—but none of these loves seem to last forever. Love, at times a drive by affair, zooms through a Sudbury wedding chapel, a Toronto parking garage, an Ottawa lesbian bar, and a west coast drug run. These provocative stories traverse the country and almost two decades—from dial phones to gay marriage rights—of fragile, impulsive, and engaging characters that draw the reader willingly into their worlds. Holtz has deftly brought to life a succession of vivid and often marginalized characters whose very identity is marked and made by their pursuit of desire and love. These sharply crafted stories—all compassionate, sometimes gritty, and often very funny—leave one feeling strangely satisfied even in the face of unrequited longing and very sticky romantic conflicts.

Outspoken, a collection of lesbian monologues and scenes edited by Susan G. Cole, offers a transnational, retrospective survey of the lesbian character in Canadian drama. A collection of excerpted dramatic texts such as this is generally aimed at the performing artist—offering a fresh supply of audition material—but Cole’s collection extends its purpose to a historical overview of dramatic texts, and includes multi-character scenes and anecdotal ruminations. Outspoken is a useful tool for the actor, yes, but further, it supplies a unique context for Cole’s critical analysis of the lesbian character in Canadian drama and contemporary culture. Pedagogically, it could serve as a sort of flash-card lesbian dramatic history lesson. The book opens with a monologue from Sarah Anne Curzon’s 1882 drama about a young woman’s infiltration of the academy, with a dream in her heart, a nifty motto (“if she will, she will”), and a “divided skirt,” then leaps into the late 1900s to cover a sampling of contemporary lesbian work. While the chapter titles tend to dilute the significance of the individual voices, styles, and cultures of the artists represented, the material in the collection provides an excellent introduction to some of Canada’s most important female, lesbian, and queer theatre voices, including d’bi. young’s poetic emulation of miss merle from Androgyne; Natalie Meisner’s syncretic representation of Virginia Woolf ’s relationship to both her long time lover Vita Sackville West and the title character of Woolf ’s novel, Orlando; Ivan Coyote’s anecdotal tale of coaching straight actors for the lesbian roles in the TV series The L-Word; and a scene from Sonja Mills’ hilarious play Dyke City.

Dyke City is also taken up as the topic of Ann Holloway’s shrewd essay “Potluck Feminism: Where’s the Meat?” in the critical anthology Queer Theatre in Canada, edited by Rosalind Kerr. This anthology is an “overview of where Canadian queer theatre is today and how we arrived here.” The emergence of LGBT and queer identities, and their reciprocal influence on theatre and performance, Kerr suggests, find contiguity with the larger topic of national and regional identities. To this end, the collection includes an array of critical voices including Neil Carson’s examination of John Herbert’s uniquely Canadian trajectory from fame to obscurity; Sky Gilbert’s expression of a sense of isolation in the increasingly post-gay climate of professional Canadian theatre; Elaine Pigeon’s exploration of the shifting semiotics of queer in productions of Michel Tremblay’s Hosanna from the 1970s to the 1990s; and Susan Billingham’s investigation of gender in Tomson Highway’s hit play Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. Later in the anthology, we get a glimpse into some Canadian experimental and populist performance events such as Cheap Queers, Toronto’s radical festival of “bizarreness and fun,” discussed by Mariko Tamaki, and The Greater Toronto Drag King Society chronicled and critiqued in Frances J. Latchford’s excellent essay “Get Your ‘Boy’ On!” Kerr’s inclusive anthology, covering material from the 1960s to 2007, is a must-read for students and enthusiasts of queer theory, theatre, performance, and cultural studies in Canada.

This review “Queer Retrospectives” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 214 (Autumn 2012): 149-50.

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