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Reviewed by:
  • Théâtre océanien: Anthologie edited and translated by Sonia Lacabanne, and: Urbanesia: Four Pasifika Plays edited by David O’Donnell
  • Diana Looser
Théâtre océanien: Anthologie, edited and translated by Sonia Lacabanne. Collection Littératures du Pacifique. Papeete: Au vent des îles, 2011. isbn 978-2-9156-5483-7, 364 pages. Paper, xpf 2143.
Urbanesia: Four Pasifika Plays, edited by David O’Donnell. New Zealand Play Series. Wellington: Playmarket, 2012. isbn 978-0-908607-43-3, 312 pages, illustrations, bibliography. Paper, nz $40.00.

Since the 1960s, the Pacific region has witnessed the development and proliferation of contemporary drama in numerous sites. This has been a varied output, inflected by local cultural, economic, and sociopolitical circumstances but also representing mutual concerns and aesthetic techniques. Unlike other literary genres such as poetry and prose, drama as an embodied, collaborative art form does not have its primary life on the page, and print publication has often been of secondary importance to public performance. In recent years, these works have started to appear more regularly in published form, often many years after their original staging, signaling an awareness of their significance as literary texts and a commitment to their wider circulation for study and production.

In addition to stand-alone volumes, several published anthologies have brought together works by various playwrights, enabling broader conversations about the plays themselves and the state of playwriting and performance in particular locales. Five New Guinea Plays (Beier, 1971), for example, collates provocative, anticolonial dramas written by university students prior to Papua New Guinea’s independence from Australia; He Reo Hou: 5 Plays by Maori Playwrights (Garrett, 1991) charts the emergence of several Māori dramatists in Aotearoa/New Zealand between the mid-1970s and the late 1980s; He Leo Hou / A New Voice: Hawaiian Playwrights (Wat and Desha, 2001) surveys a vibrant cross-section of contemporary work by indigenous playwrights in Hawai‘i; and Beyond Ceremony: An Anthology of Drama from Fiji (Gaskell, 2001) demonstrates how playwrights have used theater to respond to and intervene in Fiji’s troubled multicultural milieu.

Such anthologies have been instrumental in helping create a more lasting record of past productions and reveal historical, thematic, and artistic patterns among authors and plays. But as these examples show, there has been a tendency to focus on local or national concerns or to feature playwrights from specific ethnic groups. Less in evidence are collections that speak across national borders, that emphasize a wider regional view, and that traverse linguistic boundaries beyond the code-switching contained in individual works. Consequently, two recent anthologies of Pacific Islands plays, Théâtre océanien: Anthologie (2011) and Urbanesia: Four Pasifika Plays (2012), are welcome additions to the corpus of published regional drama.

Théâtre océanien: Anthologie, edited and with translations by Sonia Lacabanne, breaks new ground by combining important francophone Pacific plays with new French translations of anglophone plays. Opening up [End Page 240] the variety of Pacific Islands drama to a francophone audience, the anthology surveys work by playwrights from Fiji, Rotuma, Hawai‘i, New Caledonia, and Tahiti. Rather than concentrating on very recent drama, the collection includes plays staged between the late 1980s and the early 2000s, incorporating established works that might be considered classics of the Oceanian canon as well as lesser-known pieces receiving well-deserved recognition for the first time.

Of the plays originally composed in English, Outcasts (1989), by pioneering Fijian playwright Larry Thomas, presents a nuanced and uncompromising view of inhabitants of a squatter settlement struggling to get by in urban, postcoup Fiji. Employing the incisive social realism and critical reflection that has remained a hallmark of his playwriting, Thomas’s early play draws careful attention to the dispossessed in our midst, while its tragic ending prompts its audience to ask tough questions about Fiji’s socioeconomic discrepancies, attitudes to gender, and interracial conflicts. Alani Apio’s Kāmau (1994) enacts a skillful anatomization of the personal and moral impact of the capitalist exploitation of Hawai‘i’s land and resources. Alika, a Native Hawaiian man, is offered a promotion when the hotel company for which he works buys the land his family occupies to make...


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