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Reviewed by:
  • Essays on Modern Quebec Theater
  • Don Perkins
Essays on Modern Quebec Theater. Edited by Joseph I. Donohoe, Jr. and Jonathan M. Weiss. MSU Press Canadian Series, no. 6. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995; pp. x + 254. $35.00 cloth.

This collection invited twelve scholars to take as their common point of reference the connections, or disconnections, between Quebec theatre and the Quebec cultural revolution. Some focus on the earlier period when theatre is credited with helping create a Quebec sensibility in a québécois language; others focus on the theoretically post-nationalist period beginning with the 1980s, when Quebec theatre reputedly turned more to technique. The essays are grouped somewhat artificially into four sub-categories: “Theatre and Culture,” “Language and the Theatre,” “Quebec Theatre in a Contemporary Context,” and “Interpretive Essays.” The more interesting and challenging connections occur across rather than within these divisions.

In the first section, Alonzo Le Blanc examines the cross-fertilization of cultures in Quebec theatre up to 1970. He includes such influences as the French dramatic tradition, popular inspiration, “Americanness,” parody, the matter of joual, and techniques of theatrical hybridization, all of which combined to produce the textures of Quebec theatre. Chantal Hébert focuses more closely on the connections within Quebec culture, using three political reference points: the 1960 election of the Quebec Liberal party, the 1970 October Crisis, and the 1980 sovereignty referendum. Hers is a history of continual opening outward from the introspective period of the anti-hero through to a more recent period where the “radicals” of the 1960s and 1970s become, effectively, the “establishment” of the 1980s. Even more than Le Blanc, she considers joual an “everyday” language appropriated by the stage. The third essay, Jane Moss’s “Hysterical Pregnancies and Post-Partum Blues: Staging the Maternal Body in Recent Quebec Plays,” seems misplaced in this company. It might easily have joined the later “interpretive” section, though it connects with Hébert’s comments on the emergence of feminism as one of the definitive features of theatre in the 1970s.

Two essays in the next section reconsider the cultural implications and status of joual, along with the related issues of translation into québécois French and translation from québécois into English. Annie Brisset examines the problems that emerge when a new translation language becomes necessary and possible. She notes that joual, a “damaged” and proletarian language, helped reinforce the myth of victimization that was Quebec theatre’s preferred perspective from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Lucie Robert then explains how joual was never truly a language of the streets, but was an evolving literary language favored by the intellectual literary class.

Finally, Jane Koustas considers the reception of translated plays from “French” Canada by [End Page 253] Anglophone Toronto reviewers writing between the early 1950s and the early 1980s. She claims that inadequate translations, inadequate critical attention to the fact of translation, and ethnocentrism led the Toronto critics to misunderstand the specific cultural referents of plays from the seminal period of the late 1960s through to the 1980s. These same causes, she continues, led Anglophone critics and audiences to misappropriate the plays as “Canadian.”

Is one official reading all they deserve? Do Quebec and that journalistic fiction known as the Rest of Canada (ROC) share no parallel cultural, political or theatrical concerns? The best challenge to this rather reductive reading of the plays comes in the next section. Elaine Nardocchio considers different kinds and different levels of cultural competence, and the ways these influence the reception of plays. She makes a strong case for a “polydimensional” critical approach that recognizes varying interpretations as being differently framed rather than necessarily wrong-headed.

Gilbert David examines the internal tensions accompanying the explosive growth of theatre in Quebec and the ways that priorities for the allocation of shrinking public funding tend to flatten out values and artistic objectives in the non-commercial theatre—a set of concerns with obvious parallels to those of theatre across Canada. He wonders whether Quebec can continue to have the kind of theatre it requires as a minority Francophone society surrounded by Anglophone North America.

The other two...

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pp. 253-254
Launched on MUSE
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