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Reviewed by:
  • Plays by French and Francophone Women
  • Kevin Elstob
Plays by French and Francophone Women. Edited and translated by Christiane P. Makward and Judith G. Miller. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994; viii + 345 pages. $47.50 cloth, $17.95 paper.

This anthology of plays with its precise and informative annotated bibliography, makes an excellent addition to cultural, literary, and theatrical studies. Women’s studies certainly benefits from seeing this spectrum of writers in one volume. Not only are the women of varied nationalities, but they also encompass a wide range of professional and literary backgrounds. Writers well versed in feminist and psychoanalytic theory, like Hélène Cixous, abut actresses turned dramatists, such as Michèle Foucher. We see the writing of Ina Césaire, an ethnologist and daughter of Aimé Césaire, side by side with writers like Andrée Chedid who are better known for their poetry and novels. Similarly, Antonine Maillet’s folk drama juxtaposes the sensual introspective work of Chantal Chawaf.

This kaleidoscope of plays also adds to the growing field of francophone studies. In the postcolonial world, the concept of ‘francophone’ engenders a complex and contradictory debate. The world-wide importance of French is born of a long colonial history fraught with opposing points of view. The Quebecois and minority French-speaking populations of the Eastern Canadian seaboard and Western Canada view their language as a shield against the cultural imperialism of English. On the other hand, writers of the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and North and sub-Saharan Africa write in French despite the fact that the language was the very foundation of French colonial power.

The plays in Makward’s and Miller’s anthology present the complexities of our postcolonial world through theatre that was molded in the cauldron of modern French relations and by the linguistic, political, economic, artistic, and indeed academic exigencies of French colonization and trade. Francophone theatre offers a wide spectrum from Caribbean dramas rooted in Carnival tradition, through West African griotic and ritual plays, to the working-class dialects of East Montreal and the rural French of Acadia. Add to this cross-cultural mix, theatre in France and Europe that is trying to break free of classical yokes, and you have an idea of the richness of Plays by French and Francophone Women. By bringing us these plays in English, the editors and translators add creative substance to interactive dynamics wrought from performance traditions from around the world. A brief overview of the plays will give an idea of the anthology’s range.

The book presents contemporary plays by eight women. Michèle Foucher’s The Table: Womenspeak opens the anthology with a one-woman show based on taped interviews with working-class women in the Strasbourg area. Foucher culled twenty-four hours of tape into a play of 46 sketches centered around the table which becomes variously the scene of scolding, love-making, eating, women’s talk, day-dreaming and violent confrontation. Like Foucher, Ina Césaire in Island Memories, uses research into a local community. Her two-woman play chronicles the pain, laughter, brutality, and nuances of gender roles and the colonial past through everyday language, riddles, jokes, and Carnival dance steps.

In contrast, Antonine Maillet’s The Rabble uses multiple characters to confront the haves and the have-nots: those “standard” French speakers who are the mercantile and professional class of Acadia; and the underclasss of fishermen, musicians, and cleaners from across the tracks. Though the play revolves around class issues, Maillet’s central character, La Sagouine—a charwoman seen in many of Maillet’s plays and stories—is both a mordant critic of social conditions and an embodiment of the experienced and conquering mature woman.

While Maillet’s central figure works with the men in her community, the characters in Denise Boucher’s When Faeries Thirst offer an unequivocally feminist view of life. Three Marys ferociously indict patriarchal society’s confinement of women to enslavening roles of whore, virgin, and mother. Playing out scenes of male brutality, the women reach a new level of awareness while decrying how images and expectations have imprisoned them.

The Godess Lar or Centuries of Women by...

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pp. 397-398
Launched on MUSE
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