Daniel MacIvor: New Essays on Canadian Theatre: Volume Five ed. by Richie Wilcox (review)
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Reviewed by
Richie Wilcox, ed. Daniel MacIvor: New Essays on Canadian Theatre: Volume Five. Playwrights Canada Press. xvi, 264. $25.00

Daniel MacIvor is an important addition to Playwrights Canada Press's New Essays on Canadian Theatre series. As Volume Five, at first it may seem an anomaly as the only book dedicated to a single writer. However, the choice of MacIvor for his own book makes sense. He is a distinguished and acclaimed Canadian and proud Cape Breton theatre artist. He is multifaceted: undoubtedly a major playwright but also at least an actor, director, manager, teacher, mentor, and well-known advocate for and voice of the gay community, and the book succeeds admirably in presenting many of these facets.

This collection of a dozen essays helps capture the essence of an era, from the late 1980s to close to the present, a time of solo shows, Rhubarb [End Page 124] Festivals, theatrical tours, and controversial companies and productions that broke new ground, stylistically and thematically. Particularly readable accounts of this period include editor Richie Wilcox's personal and very informative introduction and his interview with long-time MacIvor director and da da kamera associate Daniel Brooks. The inclusion of a speech by MacIvor himself, aptly entitled "The Authentic Artificial" (2011), gives the reader a taste of the writer's unique voice and mind. And a colourful personal history of MacIvor's plays by Caroline Gillis, one of his favourite actresses, provides a glimpse of the "backstage" life of MacIvor's theatre. Susan Bennett's examination of his ever-changing solo shows illustrates and explains the theatre that MacIvor and Brooks were creating in the da da kamera years. Even a more thematic essay, Thom Bryce McQuinn's "2 MacIvor's: Gay/Queer Representation and Radical Intimacy," uses a broad chronological background for a study of the playwright's exploration of his and Canadian society's evolving understanding of sexuality. Altogether these pieces bring to life a vanishing period of Canadian theatre, the post-post-"alternate theatre," and make for easily accessible reading.

Other included essays, several by distinguished Canadian theatre scholars such as Ann Wilson, Jenn Stephenson, and Wes D. Pearce, are excellent but not for the faint of heart. Or more particularly not for those lacking a knowledge of the plays they discuss. There have been complementary play editions linked to other volumes in this series which have provided many of the texts discussed in the essays. Much of MacIvor's work is already available in print and the reader is well advised to read/reread plays like Marion Bridge, and the less well-known Was Spring, The Soldier's Dreams, and A Beautiful View before tackling some of the essays. As someone reasonably familiar with MacIvor's work from reading and seeing it performed, I still had to skim through several before reading Ray Miller's study of dance in MacIvor's plays. And a couple of his plays are not easy to come by, such as his early (but seminal) semi-autobiographical failure, Somewhere I Have Never Travelled, a biodrama, His Greatness, on Tennessee Williams's storied tenure at the University of British Columbia in 1980, and Arigato, Tokyo (2013). But the essays on them (by Christopher Grignard, John S. Bak, and Peter Kuling) are well worth the effort of locating the source plays.

This comment is more caveat than criticism. The collection is a wonderful and welcome overview of MacIvor, his theatre, and his time, with some essays for the generalist and others for the specialist, and is strongly recommended for the student of Canadian theatre. [End Page 125]

Ross Stuart
Department of Theatre, York University
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