The review package for 2004 indicates the continuing health of dramatic publication, with approximately the same number and variety of publications as last year. This volume of work, however, includes a substantial minority of plays that have received their first trade publication long after they were written or first staged. Thus, in addition to reissued plays (Anne Chislett's Quiet in the Land and George Elroy Boyd's Gideon's Blues), the package includes among its separately published works Don Druick's Through the Eyes, first performed in 1995, Rahul Varma's Bhopal, first produced in 2001, and Robert Majzels's This Night the Kapo, which won playwriting competition prizes in the early 1990s, although it received its first production only in 2004. The collections of works by Karen Hines and Stewart Lemoine similarly make available for the first time in trade paperback format work that dates from the early 1990s. This distance between writing, production, and trade publication in part reflects the process of development through performance, most conspicuously in the case of Bhopal, which has been published by Talonbooks in the version that emerged from a production in Hindi that toured six Indian cities in 2002 and another by Cahoots Theatre Projects in Toronto in 2003. Yet the disjunction between performed and published drama also produces the anomalous situation in which some of the works reviewed here are already established subjects of critical analysis, in some cases already having become generally available in Canadian Theatre Review or as copyscripts from Playwrights Canada Press. These circumstances also contribute to the diversity of the work included in the review package, which exhibits only the broadest patterns of theme and style.
Three of the plays submitted for review were among the five finalists in the 2004 competition for the Governor-General's Literary Award for Drama. They epitomize the distribution of most of the plays in the review package: the latest play from an established playwright (Michael Healey's Rune Arlidge); the first trade publication of work by a frequently produced playwright (Two Plays by Robert Chafe); and the first trade publication of work developed over a number of years through Fringe festivals (Karen [End Page 88] Hines's The Pochsy Plays). They also demarcate subdivisions that can be applied to the other plays in the package: family plays, history plays, and unconventional Fringe creations.
The three acts of Michael Healey's Rune Arlidge show episodes from the lives of three generations of women spread over twenty-five years, all set on and around the porch of a southern Ontario cottage that provides 'just about the worst view' of 'the prettiest lake' and becomes a metaphor for the isolation, dysfunction, and decay of the play's matriarchy. Act 1, set in 1994, establishes patterns of behaviour that are repeated in the following acts. We see Rune at twenty, visiting the family cottage with her embittered, addled mother, Frances, and her promiscuous, substance-abusing older sister, Michelle. Frances is self-absorbed, verbose, and often verbally abusive; her daughters introduce themselves to the audience by telling her to 'shut up,' or, in Michelle's case, to 'SHUT THE FUCK UP.' Frances's long, outrageous stories about her disastrous past turn into monologues when her daughters flee into the cottage or conduct parallel conversations, establishing a pattern of non-communication that recurs in the subsequent acts. Frances's resentful reminiscences about her 'clueless and deluded' ex-husband introduce the theme of untrustworthy, 'absent,' yet indispensable men that is extended when Rune's 'nice' boyfriend, Matthew, arrives a day late to propose to Rune, but turns out to have previously impregnated her sister. Rune's refusal of his proposal is motivated not by this double-dealing, of which she is unaware, but by her sense that she lacks an identity. 'I don't know who I'd be,' she tells Matthew; 'I'm nothing now,' so 'I'm not qualified to be making any decisions right now.' Rune's passive self-defence against experience is exemplified by her non-decision about marriage: when Matthew replies that 'You don't have to decide now,' she announces 'I just did.'