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POESIE 371 Ie sang sur la neige ou sur Ie sable de l'arene. Integrons ees motifs Ii un recit lietif, synthese approximative des reeueils resumes plus haut, qui illustrerait la Iethargie de l'homme piege, teleguide, speetateur hallucine de son propre suicide, avide de revenir au stade feetal pour y avorter, puisque de toute fa~on une machine infernale, ineontrolee, emporte dans sa course folle l'humanite vers Ie neant, ou pour en renaltre change, puisque l'espoir, sinon d'une mutation, du moins d'une patiente evolution, subsiste malgre les desordres, comme Ie feu couve sous la cendre. Metaphore de l'actualite, ee recit imaginaire traduirait Ie drame de l'epoque que nous vivons depuis Ii peu pres 1971, Iequel drame implique des evenements et des phenomenes apparemment disparates, autonomes: cybernetique , torture d'Etat, patronat multinational, politique du laisseraller , de la diversion, du loisir, crise de l'energie, pollution, change, avortement , jeux du stade, ecoute eleetronique, Watergate-ou-du-mensongeeonsidere -eomme-un-des-beaux-arts. Des travaux ulterieurs me permettront peut-etre de verifier Ie bien-fonde de ees hypotheses, nees ala lecture de quelques reeueils parus au Quebec en 1973, mais qu'auraient tout aussi bien suscitees des poemes d'autre origine. Tout ne se passe-toil pas comme si les poetes de partout parlaient Ii ehaque epoque Ie meme langage chiffre ? L'esprit souffie OU il veut : il annule les frontieres, anime aux antipodes les doubles de nos modes. Meme les poetes des 'pays sans parole' interpretent les 'paroles sans pays' que sont les discours de l'imagination mythique. 'Tout est realite,' affirme Claude Saint-Germain (dans Ie premier numero du journal Hobo/Quebec, janvier 1973, p 5), 'et I'imaginaire en fait partie integralement.' (JACQUES BLAIS) NOTE • PuiS<:jue seu1 l'aujourd'hui me fascine ici, on comprendra que je neglige d'etudier les collections de textes relevant d'un passe plus ou moins lointain : Yves-Gabriel Brunet, Poisies I, poemes 1958-1962 (Editions de I'Hexagone, collection Retrospectives, 157, $3.50); Roland Giguere, La Main au feu, 1949-1968 (Editions de l'Hexagone, collection Retrospectives, 145, $3.50); Claude Hae£fely, Des Nus et des pierres, 1948-1971 ( Montreal, Librairie Deom, colleclion Poesie canadienne, no 32, 76, $3.50). DRAMA It has been a year of consolidation for Canadian drama in print, with plays from the 1960s being published for the lirst time, and new work by writers 372 LETTERS IN CANADA who started the boom of the early 1970s. One is particularly curious about the latter, for a successful first play can make the second one forbiddingly hard to write. David French has compounded the risk by returning to the actual characters of his first play, Leaving Home, a Newfoundland family living in Toronto. But Of the Fields, Lately (Playwrights Co-op, 76, $3.00) is a welcome exception to the Law of Inferior Sequels. The dialogue is as sharp and entertaining as before; but reduced in number, and sprung loose from the over-familiar generation-conHict plot of the earlier play, the characters have a new range and complexity. At first, and somewhat alarmingly, we seem to be on old ground: a son ( Ben) and a father (Jacob) who cannot make contact. Whatever experience the author is really drawing on, literary ghosts, Biff and Willy Loman, haunt the stage. But soon the play opens out into a celebration of a tough, narrow, but intensely felt life, in Jacob's stories of the past (the old friend who used to put his glass eye in backwards, for fun), and in the way Jacob himself still carries on: '''Vho else do you know,' asks Ben appreciatively, 'would pick a fight inside a funeral parlour?' This view of Jacob is familiar from Leaving Home; but here the father's energy is both more intense and more vulnerable, for it is juxtaposed with the constant presence of death. Jacob is recovering from a heart attack, yet the thought of staying useless at home makes him so miserably irritable that finally Ben deliberately goads him into returning to work, and he dies on the job. The father-son motif and the facing of death come together in a paradoxical act of love: Ben sends his father to die, in order to let him keep his pride. Put that way, it sounds sentimental; but the writing here has a toughness and compression that show the brutality as well as the necessity of Ben's decision. The contact between generations is made; and the playas a whole is a tribute from the younger generation to the old: the old may be amusingly cantankerous and set in their ways, but they carry a rich collection of experience , and they feel life sharply, perhaps because they are about to leave it. Jacob describes how his father, dying in agony, never cried out, but bent the bed frame out of shape. Uncle Wiff, haunted by his wife's angry ghost, H ees his house in terror - and then returns to look for her, because 'I suddenly felt that anyt'ing was better than not'ing.' So, in the end, Ben would rather his father were intensely alive for a few weeks than halfdead for years. David Freeman's first play, Creeps, was an ensemble piece in which each character was necessarily Simplified in order to fit into the larger design. In his second, like French, he reduces his cast and examines the individuals more closely. Battering Ram ( Playwrights Co-op, 72, $3.00) DRAMA 373 opens with a classic dramatic device, an outsider invading a home and releasing the latent tensions of the inhabitants. The outsider is Virgil, a young man in a wheelchair, the insiders Irene, a volunteer at Virgil's hospital , and her daughter Nora. The main tensions are sexual; but despite the obvious connotations of the title, Virgil is not Stanley Kowalski in a wheelchair; acting the aggressive male, he is trying out a role he is not quite sure how to play. He is embarrassed at being offered marijuana, chokes on straight rum, and after his nrst sexual encounter with Irene, he apologizes. Nor are the WOmen merely submissive. Irene is a collector who picks up patients, uses them, and drops them. Nora, like Virgil, is unsure of herself, and veers unpredictably between Birtation and hostility. In all of them, there is a conBict between inhibition and desire: Virgil and Nora use the language of the liberated generation, but are more hesitnnt about actual sex than the apparently conventional Irene; and Virgil and Irene can go to bed only after the preliminaries of getting drunk and playing 'doctor.' After a climax of explosive physical action - stripping, slapping, and kicking - Virgil wheels himself out, announcing 'I got what I wanted ... And so did you.' Though his play is more violent and abrasive, Freeman's conclusion is not unlike French's: better a nve-minute brawl than a long dull afternoon watching television. Bold in outline, but surprisingly subtle in detail, Battering Ram shows that Freeman, like French, is not just a one-play writer. In both these work, there is an effort to nnd some kind of excitement, and a fear of the boredom of routine living. But in James Reaney's Apple Butter and Other Pla),s for Children (Talonbooks, 195, $4.00) the excitement comes naturally. The vividness of the childhood vision is central to Reaney's idea of what drama should be, and these children's plovs, written during the 1960s, are of vital importance to an understanding of his work. Exuberant and inventive in themselves, they require the same qualities in their performers, and in their audiences. The nrst play, AI,!'le Butter, is the least demanding, being a puppet play and therefore able to show literally such things as a gigantic flying hairbrush. The challenges really begin with Geography Match, where live actors are asked to impersonate an iceberg, a bear, a wolf, and on one occasion Niagara Falls. Reaney has also a poet's - or a child's - fascination with collecting things. There are long lists: Canadian place names, proper names, Roman emperors. There is a recurring delight in the sheer number of things you can find: Mr Thorntree, the villain of Names and Nicknames, who attempts to blight the lives of children by giving them nasty nicknames at their christenings, is foiled not by some clever evasion, but by a frontal attack: the parents 374 LETTERS IN CANADA give their baby such an avalanche of names that Thorntree collapses under the sheer weight of them. For all their exuberance, these plays are never slapdash: in all of them there is a problem to be solved, or a competition to be won, and this gives them a tightness of form that sharpens the fun. Even the audience participation is not thrown in casually but shrewdly placed at moments of excitement. It may be Significant that Ignoramus, which shows a debate between conservative and progressive education, ends with a compromise, in which the children of the play are shown to need both freedom and a sense of form. It is the form that dominates Henry Beissel's Inook and the Sun (Playwrights Co-op, 37, $1.50), a quest tale written as an Eskimo legend but designed for presentation in the manner of the Bunraku National Puppet Company of Japan, with live performers operating the puppets in full view of the audience. Inook sets out to bring back the lost sun, and in the process matures through the death of his father and the discovery of his own courage. The hero is placed against natural forces, embodying abstract qualities - the permanence of the moon, the freedom of the wind - and against some lively animal figures, including a musk-ox with a dry sense of humour. The mythical patterns are rather fussily complicated at the end, and after the exuberance of Reaney the play seems a trifle dour. But it is, for most of its length, attractive in its clarity and economy, and in its natural fu sion of the archetypal quest story and the maturing of an individual. As Reaney turns history into game, and Beissel shapes myth into ritual, so other playwrights have taken material from the past, and seen it from the wry, sceptical angle characteristic of modern drama. Michael Bawtree's The Last of the Tsars (Clarke, Irwin, 95, $5.95) appears at first to take its subject a bit too lightly. In the early scenes, the characters' direct acknowledgement that they are putting on a play looks like a mere playwright 's trick, a bit of unassimilated Pirandello, and the easy flippancy of the dialogue can be irritating. Bawtree can write very witty lines, but in a play about the death agony of the old Russia, why should he? Gradually, the answer comes from within the play. The Tsarist regime is indeed, as the revolutionary Samoilov calls it, 'theatrical hokum.' Grand Duke Michael, the play's chief spokesman, is incapable of being wholly serious even when he tries: he describes the Russian religious experience as 'a kind of stillness, ecstasy or something.' But as Samoilov is drawn against his will into the play, he comes to feel a grudging respect for Michael and everything he stands for, and he is forced to see that the 'historical facts' he lives by may be as unreal, as theatrical, as the rituals of the Romanoffs. DRAMA 375 The play shows, unstintingly, the incompetence and corruption of the Tsarist regime, but it also forces us to contemplate and admire the sort of response to life that Michael in particular embodies: graceful, witty, a little detached, but gallant and urbane in the face of horror. Men may appear trapped inexorably in history, but they are also capable of moments of beauty and grace - an idea embodied in the recurring image of the lilac tree, which is primarily associated with Michael's charming, irresponsible wife Natalie, but which also touches Michael, Samoilov, and once, surprisingly , Rasputin. There are two organizing principles at work in the play: the accumulation of facts (documents, letters, speeches) and the ordering of experience by the imagination - history versus art. While history states its case, there is no doubt where the play's final sympathies lie: its special achievement is to draw, convincingly, an elegant work of art out of one of the most horrific periods of modern times. One might say that history and art are also related in Tom Hendry's Grcrvediggers of 1942 (Playwrights Co-op, 59, $2.25), but here the history is the Dieppe raid, the art is a 1940s musical, and the result is grim satire. Lacking Steven Jack's music, the reader can still appreciate the artful pastiche of the style of the period in Hendry's book and lyrics. The juxtaposition of tap-dancing and gunfire, gaiety and horror, is by now an old trick, but like so many old tricks, it works. However, Jack Gray's Striker Schneiderman (University of Toronto Press, 85, $1.75), shows that no good idea, however old, is foolproof. Gray's idea, an excellent one, is to show the Winnipeg general strike through the eyes of a Schweikfigure , a Jewish tailor; but its development is pat and mechanical. The characters fall into place like computer cards: moderate and radical right, moderate and radical left, Schneiderman uncommitted in the middle. In the end, the tailor settles the strike and is adopted as a hero by both sides, but the process by which this happens seems arbitrarily contrived by the playwright. There are some funny jokes, and some telling stage pictures, but the playas a whole fails to convince. A more believable study of the man in the middle (a Canadian political theme if everthere was one) is Sharon Pollock's Walsh (Talonbooks, 112, $2.50). Walsh is an NWMP superintendent, dealing with the situation that arises when Sitting Bull and the Sioux seek refuge in Canada after killing General Custer. Sitting Bull behaves impeccably, and Walsh, a white man genuinely close to the Indians, is sympathetic to him; but official Ottawa policy is to offer the Sioux nO help, forcing them back across the border by attrition. The central scenes are dangerously static, showing as they do a political stand-off; but as Sitting Bull's composure cracks, and 376 LETTERS IN CANADA Walsh is forced more and more into adopting the official line, the drama starts to move again, and the destruction of the Sioux not by war but by a slow, deadly combination of starvation, disease, and official indifference, is poignantly described.Walsh himself, in the classic conflict between private feeling and official responsibility, is a figure of some subtlety. Apart from occasional lapses like 'I'm a person, I exist. I think and feel!' the writing in his part is refreshingly unpretentious; and when the crucial choice is presented to him by his superior he makes it quickly, like the good officer he is. In one short speech he capitulates to the authorities. The real agony of the decision grows within him, slowly, only after the decision itself is made; and his final, wordless gesture of frustrated rage when he hears of Sitting Bull's squalid death shows how deep it has gone. Here, as throughout , the play's theatrical method is finely adjusted to its purposes: through a few men isolated on the stage, with the larger sweep of events presented by disembodied voices and offstage sounds, we see the terrible separation between those who make history and those who have to live in it. Walsh is also the subtlest treatment among this year's plays of the popular theme of the white man's relations with the Indian. Coming out of Ryga country, Cam Hubert's Twin Sinks of Allan Sammy ( Playwright's Co-op, 30, $1.50) is repetiti" e and cliche-ridden, but while the central characters, Allan Sammy and his wife, are surrounded by such stock figures as the ancestral spirit and the crass white businessman, their own dilemma is honestly explored, and the ending, in which the Indian throws off the dream of making it On the white man's terms and returns to his people, makes a refreshing change from the despair in which plays On this theme so often end. Paul St Pierre's Sister Ralonika (Book Society of Canada, 143, $6.95) centres on an Indian nun at a school for Indian children. Nuns and children (especially the singing kind) are a dangerous combination, as any experienced moviegoer knows, and in Sister Balonika the situations are so slickly contrived and the characters so relentlessly lovable that the final effect of the piece, however sincere its intentions may have been, is disagreeably synthetic. Finally, two anthologies. Dialogue and Dialectic (Alive Press, 199) brings together a number of previously unpublished one-act plays, most of which bave been produced, and most of which, frankly, are awful. The absurdist plays are pretentious and contrived, the 'straight' ones are full of lines like 'That's all I am to you, isn't it - a body to be used. You figure I'm not good enough for anything else because my background's different from yours.' But talent Rickers here and there, and there is a tight, haunting tale of revenge, Leonard Pluta's Little Guy Napoleon, tbat deserves DRAMA 377 better company. Eugene Benson's Encounter: Canadian Drama in Four M edia (Methuen, 201 , $9.50 cloth, $5.95 paper), brings together some previously published stage plays, including Robertson Davies' Overlaid and Gwen Pharis Ringwood's Still Stands the House, both of which may claim to be Canadian classics, along with previously unpublished plays for radio, television, and film. The choice of plays reRects the editor's interest in 'the conRict of man and his environment,' for the plays, with one exception, have rural settings, the most notable of them being Tiln, Michael Cook's grotesque but evocative radio play about a lighthouse keeper and his dying companion, and Joan Finnegan's screenplay The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar, a relaxed and sympathetic look at a northern Ontario family, poor and irresponsible but with the same tenacity and liveliness that David French sees, and values, in his transplanted Newfoundlanders. After such variety, what conclusions? Most of these plays, even when their aims are large, are admirably spare and unpretentiO US in manner. Through them runs a vein of comedy, from the savage wit of Freeman to the inspired mischief of Reaney. W alsh and The Last of the Tsars are close to tragedy in their subject matter, yet both rely on verbal wit to set up the main conRicts. There is little that is portentous, overwritten, or wilfully obscure. Nobody seems to be trying very hard to write the Great Canadian Play, and for that we may be thankful. We have instead a variety of playwrights working with ease and confidence in a medium they have made their own. (ALEXAND ER LEGGA'IT) THEATRE L'Anthologie du thedtre quebeCOis, 1606-1 970, de lan Doat ( Eds La Liberte, 50S, $11.95), est trap mal faite et trop mal presentee pour servir d'ouvrage de reference: cent pages d'index et d'appendices inutiles, un catalogue rapide d'extraits trap brefs, peu choisis. On pourra lire cependant quelques scenes de M' Archambault, de M' Baker, de I'Hon. Choquette, d'Alfred Descarries, de Joseph Desilets, de Jules Ferland, de Louis Guyon, etc. (Ies 'Temps revolus,' 1900-30, etant It la fois les mains connus et les mieux representes ici). Le tome IV des CEuvres thedtrales du R.P. Gustave Lamarche ( Misteres et miracles, PUL, 487, $10.00) est centre sur les figures (feminines?) ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 371-377
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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