- Contemporary Canadian Theatre: New World Visions. A Collection of Essays Prepared by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association ed. by Anton Wagner (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 56, Number 1, Fall 1986
- pp. 180-182
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Her enthusiasm for her subject is attractive and her research is diligent. In particular, the circumstances surrounding some amateur productions of the early plays make amusing and instructive reading. The chronological organization of the book highlights the continuity of Davies's drama. His themes are essentiallytwo: the life-diminishingelementsin much EnglishCanadian culture; the life-enhancing mythology of Carl G. Jung. StoneBlackburn rightly observes: 'The two themes, the cultural and the Jungian, are in fact aspects of the same concern: a need for balance and wholeness on the national and individual levels.' The book is unsatisfactory not because of the statements it makes but because of the questions it fails to ask. Davies's later and more ambitious plays, his dramatization of Leaven ofMalice, Question Time, Pontiac and the GreenMan, have not been notably successful on stage. No theatre has ever undertaken to present General Confession, in the opinion of StoneBlackburn and Davies himself his most potent play. Why? Is it simply a matter of theatrical fashions and unimaginative producers, or must we inquire further? Are there not recurrent formal problems as Davies seeks to combine a realistic vein of social satire with an expressionistic exploration of the individual psyche? Is there not a damaging contradiction in his celebration of the intuitive well-springs of experience through dialogue which is all logic and high rhetorical artifice? Does not the playwright, for all his strengths, too often seem wanting the mysterious power of negative capability, giving us the words of a character but not his voice? 'If a man wants to be of the greatest possible value to his fellow-creatures let him begin with the long, solitary task of perfecting himself' (A Jig for the Gypsy). 'Free trade between the world of fantasy and the world of reality is what gives dimension to life' (Question Time). 'Dreams are the windows through which we peep at the landscape of a man's soul' (Pontiac and the Green Man). In the theatre, as we nod assentto these wise sayings, do not the dramatic characters who utter them begin to disappear? Such questions are by no means rhetorical and many may well be answered. But unless they are brought into focus, a just appreciation of Davies's major contribution to Canadian drama is unlikely. In many ways this is a useful book, but when the definitive study of Robertson Davies, playwright, comes to be written it will be half the length and twice the weight. (MICHAEL TArr) Anton Wagner, editor. Contemporary Canadian Theatre: New World Visions. A Calleetian of Essays Prepared by the Canadian Theatre Critics Association Simon and Pierre. 411. $29.95 The hither-and-yon range of issues touched upon here - it includes brief essays on everything from 'The Performing Arts and Government Policy' HUMANITIES 181 to 'The Growth of Dance in Canada' to 'Radio and Television Drama in Quebec, 1945-1985' to 'The Canadian Theatre Designer' - raises the question of just whom this scattershot collection is intended for. For future historians, there are facts aplenty, most of them accurate, even though the older the volume becomes the more its data will be out-of-date. Very little in the Canadian theatre is written in stone, and even since the publication of this volume there have already been artistic changes at the Manitoba Theatre Centre, Tamahnous, the Bastion, and Neptune. But for those who would like understanding beyond these facts, few of the essays possess either the depth or breadth of analysis which would allow insights or encourage further research. Most dismaying of all, the general level of the writing is so banal, cramped, and mediocre that one gets absolutely no sense of the power of contemporary Canadian theatre to arouse passion, anger, or energy. A vital art form is reduced to civil service jargon: the volume seems to have been edited to join the scores of the unread - all those studies, commissioned reports, and white papers languishing in reference libraries across the nation. There are a few fine exceptions to the grayness. R.H. Thomson's 'Standing in the Slipstream: Acting in English Canada: illuminated by personal experience and wry observation, offers a private experience which nonetheless opens up a much...