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Reviewed by:
  • Sharon Pollock
  • Robyn Read (bio)
Sherrill Grace and Michelle La Flamme, editors. Sharon Pollock. Volume 10 of Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English Playwrights Canada. xviii, 182. $25.00

As the tenth volume in the landmark series Critical Perspectives on Canadian Theatre in English, Sharon Pollock is a crucial collaborative examination of the career of one of Canada's most celebrated female playwrights. This critical collection, edited by Sherrill Grace and Michelle La Flamme, joins a handful of vital contemporary texts on Pollock recently or concurrently published: another collection of essays edited by Anne Nothof, the three volumes of Pollock's Collected Works edited by Cynthia Zimmerman, and a biography by Grace. Grace and La Flamme's comprehensive compilation of essays and interviews ranging from 1986 to the present has just one overlap with the aforementioned texts, as Craig S. Walker's essay (the sole publication on the evolution of Pollock's one-woman show Getting It Straight from a never-produced play entitled Egg) previously appeared in Nothof's collection.

I refer to the book as a study of Pollock's 'career,' as Grace does in her introduction, because of what the collection achieves as a whole: it [End Page 537] contextualizes the playwright's oeuvre. By this I mean that in addition to comparative essays on the plays themselves (like that of Denis Salter), Nothof pays significant attention to the production of Pollock's work. Similarly, Rita Much reflects upon Pollock's shift from being Canada's first female artistic director of a major western theatre in the eighties (Theatre Calgary) to her involvement in the founding of Calgary's Garry Theatre in the nineties. Much's piece, which includes her interview with Pollock, is one of four in the collection in which the playwright's voice is transcribed directly and at length. It is joined by Pat Quigley's interview with Pollock concerning the Stratford Festival's productions of Walsh and One Tiger to a Hill, and two fundamental essays Pollock wrote in the early nineties that document her passion for the representation of the work of Canadians - and particularly female Canadians - in Canadian theatres. It is a collection that examines the forces both within and without Pollock's work.

If several of Pollock's themes and character types may be said to reappear in her plays throughout the years (for example, as Zimmerman posits, the spectral mother from Doc), many might also be said to employ recognizable structures: they often involve role play and re-enactment (noted by Grace, among others) in order to question what has become appropriated in the recording of the past and its peoples (Nothof's second essay in the volume). Where Pollock's plays destabilize the concept that a reading of a historical moment can be absolute, the chronologically ordered essays in this volume (a structure consistent with the other volumes in this series) demonstrate the benefits of continually revisiting and reinterpreting Pollock's plays over the years, accruing multiple perspectives of her work. Thus, this collection includes readings of her two Governor General Award-winning plays, Blood Relations and Doc, that range from the psychoanalytic (Madonne Miner), to feminist/autobiographical (Rosalind Kerr), to those that read her work as historiographic meta-narrative (Herb Wyile), or that explore the work's subversion and challenge to national, dominant histories (Grace). Also, Pollock's work is examined in the context of work by other Canadian playwrights by Jerry Wasserman (in his essay on incest in Canadian drama) and Michelle La Flamme. La Flamme's closing essay on Pollock's The Making of Warriors is a crucial inclusion, as it documents Pollock's representation of indigeneity and her commitment to staging marginalized histories, while also demonstrating a concerted editorial initiative to incorporate studies of Pollock's lesser-known plays.

Over the years, Pollock's work has actively teased open the fissures of historical records; she stages what is ambiguous or uncertain and strives to leave her audience with more questions than answers. These questions beg for a breadth of Pollock criticism - a call answered by this volume [End Page 538] that provides a close, but certainly not a closed, study of...


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