The books in drama submitted for review for 2008 include a significant number of new anthologies of Canadian plays assembled according to a number of different criteria. The anthologies, in particular, will have a significant impact on the study (and hopefully production) of Canadian drama and theatre, and I will address these first, followed by discussion of the individual publications grouped, wherever possible, according to the authors (whether they are major or lesser known) and to a certain extent according to the thematic concerns expressed.
Of the anthologies submitted this year, three in particular are major additions to the field: Sharon Pollock, Collected Works, volume 3, edited by Cynthia Zimmerman, Canada and the Theatre of War, volume 1, edited by Donna Coates and Sherrill Grace, and Staging Coyote's Dream: An Anthology of First Nations Drama in English, volume 2. These three anthologies are must-haves for any university or serious library collection of theatre.
Volume 3 is presumably the last volume of the Sharon Pollock, Collected Works, depending on Pollock's ongoing prodigious output. This volume brings into print a number of Pollock's perhaps lesser-known works, one of which, Kabloona Talk, had been given only a staged reading at the time of publication. It is a testament to Pollock's writing that this play is also reprinted in The Alberta Advantage anthology. In these plays, we are consistently aware of Pollock's sharp ability with dialogue and character. In this volume, both the domestic and larger political spheres are addressed, with several of her plays bringing attention to shameful incidents from Canada's past, focusing on the characters and voices that have been marginalized. These events are imagined and expanded in ways that draw attention to the cultural circumstances that made such events and actions possible.
The first play in the volume, A Death in the Family (1993), interweaves past and present circumstances and reminds us that life consists of how we take responsibility, both for our own choices and the accidents that life has thrown at us. Set in the mid-seventies, the play focuses on the [End Page 285] lives of Gilly and Renee, two outcasts of the local town who have a long unspoken connection to Petie, a Second World War veteran who returned with a war bride, Rose. The unlikely coincidences of bad weather and the discovery of a badly beaten young man conspire so that all are stranded at Renee's farm, where she lives with her brother Gilly, who is somewhat slow. Past injustices that have been simmering for many years come forward. Rose suspects Petie of having had an affair with Renee. This play is a tight, suspenseful drama with melodramatic undertones: Who is holding the gun? Who is the real father of this wandering son who has shown up? The melodrama doesn't overwhelm the play, however, but rather animates the issues. We find that Rose's anger has long been displaced onto this narrative from her own personal displacement as a war bride. We discover Gilly and Renee's shared secrets. And throughout there is enough self-awareness in what Pollock does that she undercuts the tension with humour and real feeling. A Death in the Family addresses not only our taking responsibility for the past, but also our living purposefully with the immediacy of the present.
Moving Pictures (1999) takes us into the life of Nell Shipman. Resonances with Pollock's own questions about her creative mission abound as Nell (as Helen, Nell, or Shipman in the three incarnations of the figure throughout her life) struggles to make art that matters. The three Nells and the multiple characters that the men play allow for a fluid interpretation and dreamlike presentation of Nell's story. Starting young in the business of acting, she eventually came to make her own films (most famously, The Girl from God's Country). She worked extensively with animals and in arduous conditions. She also refused to sign with any major companies, preferring to control her own career and film choices. But these hard choices, of course, meant that her films didn't receive large distribution. Her relentless focus on...