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  • Re:Producing Women's Dramatic History: The Politics of Playing in Toronto
  • Kym Bird
D.A. Hadfield. Re:Producing Women's Dramatic History: The Politics of Playing in Toronto. Vancouver: Talon Books, 2007. Pp 288. $24.95 (Pb).

In Re:Producing Women's Dramatic History, D.A. Hadfield begins her recovery of a group of contemporary women's theatrical texts of the late 1980s and early 1990s in Toronto with a discussion of the ways in which women's theatrical productions have been erased from history. She focuses her analysis on how the politics of representation, endemic to historical narrative, affect feminist theatrical history. She argues that theatre historians must abandon their scholarly readings of plays along a "text / performance axis" in order to take account of the myriad forms in which plays are "recorded and constructed for subsequent reading audiences" (36). Hadfield's text, accordingly, is not predominantly interested in the exegesis of scripts or performances, but "in how a performance has been translated into the historiographic record and how it is represented by the textual residues (literary and otherwise) it has left behind" (35). Drawing upon the theories of Sue-Ellen Case, Judith Lowder Newton, Julia Kristeva, and Margaret Hollingsworth, among others, Hadfield provides a feminist historiography comprised of the warp and woof of textual relations formed between scripts, performances, reviews, accounts, and archival material. She focuses on works by Judith Thompson, Sally Clark, Linda Griffiths and Maria Campbell, and Ann-Marie MacDonald, as well as the collective creation This Is for You Anna, all of which share a thematic concern with women's history and historiography.

Hadfield reintroduces a principle of hierarchy in her distinction between feminist plays that work within the mainstream and appeal to [End Page 422] Aristotelian dramatic principles and those that are born in the margins and seek to alter the form of theatre itself. In her third and fourth chapters, Hadfield sets up Thompson and Clark as examples of feminist dramatists who capitulate in form and content to patriarchal literary and theatrical modes. Based on the acclaim of her early work, Thompson was asked by Christopher Newton in 1991 to direct Hedda Gabler for the Shaw Festival. However, in order to get her adaptation of Ibsen on the stage, Hadfield contends, Thompson was forced to compromise her feminist direction and rewriting of the play – intended to "reanimate [the play's] politics of social resistance" (107) – particularly her ending, in which she gave the last word to Hedda. The success of this production, in Hadfield's view, lauded as it was by mainstream critics, is precisely what enabled Thompson to remount her play, with her original ending, for Volcano Theatre. (This time it was met with unanimous disapprobation by the same mainstream critics that had praised the play at Shaw.) For Hadfield, this is the paradox of being a successful feminist playwright: too often forced to capitulate to conservative values and aesthetics in order to acquire the fame and success necessary to challenge these values in front of a mainstream audience from a position of power. Hadfield teases out a somewhat similar personal politics of popularity with reference to Sally Clark and argues that the playwright manages only a soft brand of feminism, one that plays to both the male-dominated stages that perform her plays and the critics who review them. Hadfield insists that Clark's success turned on knowing the right people, which allowed her to get a production of her first and only decent play, Moo, and that since then she has traded on her reputation to procure productions of two much weaker scripts, The Trial of Judith K and Jehanne of the Witches. Hadfield characterizes Thompson and Clark as having attained a certain level of acceptance and fame because they work within traditional frameworks that "present little challenge to the politics of representation as practiced by historiography" or to the ideologies of the white, middle-class, liberal audiences and theatres that support them (183).

Conversely, The Book of Jessica and This Is for You Anna, discussed in the fifth chapter, are considered to be more "genuinely" feminist because, to quote Ann Wilson, they are concerned not only...


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pp. 422-424
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