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Reviewed by:
  • New Canadian Realisms: Eight Plays ed. by Roberta Barker, Kim Solga, and: New Canadian Realisms: Volume Two ed. by Roberta Barker, Kim Solga
  • Rachel E. Mansfield
New Canadian Realisms: Eight Plays. Edited by Roberta Barker and Kim Solga. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2012. Paperback $29.95. 400pages.
New Canadian Realisms: Volume Two. Edited by Roberta Barker and Kim Solga. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2012. Paperback $25.00. 240pages.

The two volumes that make up New Canadian Realisms are the first books of the Playwrights Canada Press series New Essays on Canadian Theatre, which takes the place of the anthology series Critical Perspectives in Canadian Theatre. These eight plays and twelve corresponding essays offer a variety of interpretations of theatrical realisms in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Canadian theatre and performance. Solga and Barker’s excellent editorial collaboration is highly recommended for anyone interested in interculturalism, (post)colonialism, immersive performance, cultural identities, and, of course, theories and interpretations of realisms. It is also recommended for nonscholars of contemporary Canadian theatre as an introduction to traditions of co-opting and adapting the Western dramatic canon, though in lieu of reading the plays in print readers are strongly encouraged to take advantage of any opportunity to experience the included works and troupes firsthand.

The award-winning New Canadian Realisms: Eight Plays, recipient of the 2013 Patrick O’Neill Award from the Canadian Association for Theatre Research, opens with Gwen Pharis Ringwood’s trapped-in-a-storm one act, Still Stands the House (1938). From a pedagogic perspective, Still Stands the House is an excellent companion piece to Trifles and Riders to the Sea for introductory drama students. Eight Plays’s other oft-anthologized work, Trey Anthony’s ‘da kink in my hair: voices of black womyn (“trey anthony” at the time of the play’s initial performance in 2001), began its life at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2001, was adapted into a made-for-television movie four years later, expanded for Mirvish Productions at the Princess of Wales Theatre in 2005, and achieved semi-mainstream exposure as a twenty-six episode television series on GlobalTV between 2007 and 2009. Tara Beagan’s Miss Julie: She’mah (2008) reimagines the class conflict of Strindberg’s original by placing the action in 1920s British Columbia, where Miss Julie’s servants are First Nations survivors of the Canadian Indian residential school system (“She’mah” means “white person” in Ntlakapamuk). The play is reminiscent of Floyd Favel’s Chekhov adaptations. Rounding out the collection is Madeleine Blais-Dahlem’s La Maculée/sTain (2011), set in 1920s Saskatchewan, about a Catholic Montreal transplant whose Pentecostal convert husband seeks to have her confined to a mental hospital. The anthology spans [End Page 111] more than seventy years, though the bulk of the included works are relatively new, from La Maculée/sTain to Hillar Liitoja’s 1993 AIDS drama The Last Supper: A Performance of Euthanasia, which was adapted by Cynthia Roberts and filmed at the Casey House hospice in Toronto in 1994, starring Ken McDougall, who succumbed to AIDS complications four days after his final performance.

Eight Plays is curious as an anthology because most of the plays included are site-specific, interactive, environmental theatre pieces and/or the product of theatrical collectives. Everything begs to be seen and experienced firsthand, not read, though many of the pieces would work well as jumping-off points for anyone interested in creating their own immersive theatrical experiences. For example, one of the works included is Theatre Replacement’s BIOBOXES (2007), composed of six bilingual, one-person plays for one-person audiences performed, as the name implies, inside of boxes. Another is Toronto-based improv troupe National Theatre of the World’s Impromptu Splendour, which has been part of the troupe’s repertoire since 2008; each night in Impromptu Splendour the troupe would improvise a play based on the style of a famous playwright. Penny Dreadful (2008), a creation of Halifax’s Zuppa Circus Theatre collective involving murder, rats, and syphilis, combines elements of nineteenth-century sensational fiction and Ibsen’s Ghosts. Penny Dreadful is also the subject of a short Leslie Menagh documentary about site-specific...


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