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578 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 Maurice Podbrey, as related toR. Bruce Henry. HalfMan, HalfBeast: Making a Life in Canadian Theatre Vehicule Press. 176. $17.95 The story of English-language theatre in Montreal in the period following Quebec's Quiet Revolution has yet to be written. In the meantime, Maurice Podbrey's account of the Centaur Theatre, which he founded in 1969 and ran for its first twenty-eight seasons, offers a readable overview of the institution that has been a mainstay of Montreal's anglophone community. The memoir also contains useful appendices documenting, among other things, twenty-eight years' worth of productions. The book is at its most enjoyable when it is autobiographicaL For the generation of anglophone Montrealers for whom Podbrey and the Centaur have been an important cultural presence, it offers a chance to get to know a bit about the man behind the mask. (Playwright David Fennario once said that artistic director was Podbrey's best acting role.) Podbrey's early years in South Africa in a Lithuanian immigrant family immersed in Yiddish culture and radical politics, though briefly recounted, are fascinating. His apprenticeship in London between 1957 and 1966 helps to explain the kind of theatre the Centaur was to become. After a year in theatre school, Podbrey toured in repertory companies which offered a new play each week and specialized in 'nonsensical comedies and thrillers' as well as melodrama, pantomime, and farce. His years in Britain coincided with the emergence ofplaywrights likeJohn Osborne and Amold Wesker who were to transform British theatre. Podbrey's account of the Centaur's precarious beginnings is laced with humour. The first season was lannched with only a three-month lease on the building; the theatre had no seats, and the ones acquired from an old movie theatre had been designed for curved rows and kept tearing away from the scaffolding; board members, in a bit ofcreative accounting, would lend money on Friday to pay the staff and be reimbursed on Monday from the weekend receipts; extra chairs would be borrowed from a cafe across the street if attendance was good and returned the following morning in time for breakfast. The author is at his best when he describes the nitty-grittyof running a theatre: plarming a season, casting a show, selling tickets, raising funds. When it comes to reflections on acting, directing, or theatre aesthetics, however, his observations tend to be very general and his insights not very original. Podbrey's contribution to Montreal English theatre has been an important one. He was responsible for introducing contemporary British playwrights to Montreal audiences- Harold Pinter and John Osborne in the Centaur's first season, Howard Brenton, Trevor Griffiths, Tom Stoppard, and others subsequently. He championed the work of South African play- HUMANITIES 579 wright Athol Fugard well before it was widely known in North America. He offered Centaur as a creative home to David Fennario, who produced during the time of his association with the theatre such plays as On the Job, Nothing to Lose, and Balconville. He brought plays by writers across Canada to Montreal and occasionally produced classics of world theatre. At the same time, the Centaur under his leadership seemed largely oblivious to new developments in theatre, including those going on elsewhere in Montreal To anyone with sufficient French to enjoy francophone theatre in the 1970s when it was energized by political debate, or in the 1980s when, enriched by music, dance, mime, and the visual arts, it achieved international recognition, the Centaur Theatre more often than not seemed at the time sensible, bland, safe, and boring. It avoided politics and was committed to a comfortable (and comforting) realist aesthetic. Its plays, when successful, tended to move audiences but not to challenge them. Half Man, Half Beast sets the record straight by providing some exceptions to these generalizations. It does not, however, offer enough to invalidate them. The Centaur under Podbrey never did succeed in making itself relevant to a younger generation of theatre-goers. Nevertheless, Podbrey shows the many ways in which the Centaur did evolve and respond to a changing political and demographic situation. There is no doubt that in the present period, when...


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