- African-Canadian Theatre Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English Volume 2
As general editor of Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English, Ric Knowles notes that the series is intended, in conjunction with recently published anthologies, to 'facilitate the teaching of Canadian drama and [End Page 625] theatre in schools, colleges, and universities across the country for years to come.' Volume 2, African-Canadian Theatre, edited by Maureen Moynagh, makes available several important studies (most previously published), complementing the two-volume edition of Testifyin': Contemporary African Canadian Drama, edited by Djanet Sears. Despite a few shortcomings, this volume is a welcome and much-needed addition to the study of Canadian drama and theatre.
This collection, for the most part, focuses on close readings of plays: their postcolonial strategies, their engagement with ideas of nation and the diaspora, their performance of blackness, of gender, of sexuality. Surprisingly, this can sometimes prove to be limiting. Robin Breon's article provides a straightforward historical overview of black theatre and performance, but as it was written in 1988, it feels a perfunctory nod to 'history.' Although the minstrel tradition is addressed in passing, I would like to have seen more attention paid to minstrelsy in a Canadian context. It is often difficult to teach performance practice, especially one that is so problematic and largely not script-based; the inclusion of such articles, especially in a series geared to teaching, would also help to expand the kinds of performance practice studied and lead to discussions of its cultural work.
One of the key themes among the articles is erasure: of history, of the individual, of the 'other' (however this is defined). These articles and plays find ways of speaking where history or literature is silent. As Alan Filewod points out in his article, Angélique by Lorena Gale foregrounds the erasure of slavery from dominant historical narratives in Canada, ultimately implicating the audience through its framing devices. Mary Jane Kidnie's article on Harlem Duet reads Billie, Othello's 'first' wife, using Jean-François Lyotard's 'differend' to explain how the collision of different value systems and experiences in this play prevents any kind of easy resolution.
Speaking against erasure also means rethinking an idea of nationhood and remembering differently. George Elliott Clarke reads African-Canadianité in Walter Borden's Tightrope Time as the playwright rereads/rewrites Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Performance practice is also addressed in the article on two of George Boyd's plays and their relationship to cultural/counter memory. The commentary by Rachael Van Fossen, as artistic director of Black Theatre Workshop, is at its most effective when it acknowledges often undiscussed issues around production, such as casting.
In her article, Maureen Moynagh addresses 'cultural memory performed as countermemory,' describing how Beatrice Chancy enacts a kind of 'diva citizenship' in her refusal to be silenced. Rinaldo Walcott, in a survey of several plays, performs a different act of 'citizenship' when he offers a 'diasporic aesthetics' and a 'politics of reconnection and reparation' as a [End Page 626] means of both articulating and inhabiting a new space of belonging. Similarly, spaces are rewritten or reclaimed in the calypsos and carnivals addressed in Andrea Davis's article as she reads the resistant inscriptions of black female sexuality in Tony Hall's Jean and Dinah and debbie young and naila belvett's yagayah: two.womyn.black.griots (though, oddly, she does not address Mary Russo's important work on carnival and the female grotesque). Davis points out how one of the plays brings about its own form of marginalization in its representation of homosexuality.
In short, these essays will provide a useful point of departure for further study, either of the plays or the issues presented here. As Moynagh points out, this collection is pioneering, and 'if it can inspire more scholars' (and I would add teachers) 'to devote their energies to an engagement with African-Canadian theatre, it will have served its purpose.'
Marlene Moser, Department of Dramatic Arts...