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DRAMA 55 Drama RONALD HUEBERT As everybody knows, though nobody says it publicly nowadays, there has never been a female playwright of the first rank. Try to imagine the English novel without Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf. Ridiculous indeed. And poetry too would be impoverished , though not as drastically, without Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, Denise Levertov, or Marianne Moore. Now try to imagine English drama without ... Susanna Centlivre?The exercise is worthwhile, if only as a way of understanding what it means when two of the more promising new playwrights in this country turn out to be women. Circus Gothic by Jan Kudelka (Playwrights Canada, $).50) is a onewoman show. An experienced performer in productions ranging from Hair to 18 Wheels, the playwright herself created the 22 roles of her script in productions at Theatre Passe Muraille and the Manitoba Theatre Centre in 1979. Beginning as the NarratorlRingmaster, the performer paints and mimes her way through six comic masks, until at last she is ready to attach her nose. Now she has become Corky, the Clown. She has also introduced us to a set of simple conventions which we shall need to honour if we are to absorb the rest of the play. Having given us the clues to her theatrical shorthand, the performer is now in a position to create more complicated scenes by using similar techniques. Whenever she puts on a cowboy hat, she becomes Johnny Frazier, the circus manager: When you juggle with him ... you always end up holding the blade end of the knife. Or, when she puts on a yellow satin shirt and cape, she is Eddie Rawls, the 28-year-old tightrope walker and Vietnam veteran who believes he is the jinx of the circus. With the help ofa grey overcoat she becomes Elly the Elephant: HmmmmHot Hmmmm Humans Humans milling about my kneecaps, their frail bones sounding boards for shrill voices. Their sounds bruise me. 56 LEITERS IN CANADA 1980 Inside my hide is a cavern of silence. Between my bones one sound reverberates for a century. In the space between my footsteps empires rise and fall. By frankly adopting an unrealistic technique the performer convinces us that a talking elephant is the most natural thing in the world. These are genuinely imaginative lines, in both a poetic and a theatrical sense. Simultaneously, they look inward to reveal a 'cavern' that we would not have sensed without them, and they reach outward as well to define the special 'empire' in which the clown is king. The undisputed emotional climax of Circus Gothic is the story of BigBob, 'Bosscanvasman of the Loyal Brothers Circus: identified whenever he appears by a red baseball cap. Big Bob left his wife, his kids, and his job as a steelworker in Kentucky for the heroism of pitching and unpitching canvas. 'I remember: says the Narrator, 'what an art Big Bob made of it: Steve Raeburn, Big Bob's eldest son by a previous marriage, works alongside his dad as a roustabout. Miss Virginia, the English actress turned trapeze artist, falls in love with Big Bob and becomes his lady. For one night only, this whole extravagant family is on display in Minto, New Brunswick. It rains. The electric generator fails. There is a riot. In the crackdown after the disaster Steve Raeburn 'reaches up to grab / the last lightning bar' and '1500 volts wraps itself about his fist / and grows up his arm: Enter Big Bob to the rescue. Big Bob moves, clumsy for once now across the sandlot he runs beergut bouncing under aT-shirt dark green work pants sagging in the ass. While trying to knock Steve free, Big Bob touches him, 'falls on top of his son: and dies instantly. Circus Gothic is a splendid script for an actor with enough daring, skill, stamina, and creativity to perform it well. I suspect that Kudelka is such an actor herself, but Iam also convinced that few other players will be able to revive her play. This is true in part because of her biographical advantages: the play is quite openly 'based on her experiences as a student clown with a traditional American...


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