The English-language plays published in 2014 deal with a wide range of topics, including justice, families, and the lives of gay men and women. The range of topics is not surprising. One of the works published this year was Once More, with Feeling: Five Affecting Plays, which was edited by Erin Hurley, a professor in the Department of English at McGill who specializes in drama and theory. In her introduction to the anthology, Hurley argues that “making, managing and distributing, and provoking feeling of all kinds is a key element of what theatre does, of why it [End Page 248] matters.” Theatre produces responses in its audiences in a wide range of ways. As members of an audience, we might be touched emotionally by the story being told. If the action onstage occurs within a confined space, as members of an audience we might feel that the characters are contained and have no escape, as is the case in plays such as RAGE, Butcher, and God and the Indian. In these plays, there is a sense of a competition in which there will be winners and losers. Or plays can evoke affect by staging history, bringing the past into the present and so giving it vitality, as is the case with Christina, the Girl King; And Bella Sang with Us; Trudeau Stories; Nanay (Mother): A Testimonial Play; Motherhouse; and Carried Away on the Crest of a Wave. Sometimes, plays can appeal directly to emotion through a degree of sentimentality. Examples from this year’s selection include Armstrong’s War, The Grandkid, and The Patron of Stanley Park.
It goes without saying that producing responses in audiences is not limited to one strategy. Playwrights employ a range of strategies to generate affect. What playwrights, all playwrights, want to avoid is creating a work that generates a response of indifference. The plays that were published in 2014 provide many excellent examples of playwrights who are deft dramaturgically, who have written plays that capture the imaginations of members of the audience, creating engaged responses.
In the introduction to Once More, with Feeling: Five Affecting Plays, Hurley, the editor of the collection, indicates that in making her selection of plays for inclusion in the anthology, she was looking for works that “highlight different kinds of affecting encounters and, as such, make different kinds of impressions.” Her selection accomplishes this goal. The first play in the anthology is Bliss by Olivier Choinière, translated from French by the acclaimed playwright Caryl Churchill. Bliss is a play about four people working in a Walmart, engaged in selling. At the same time, they are consumers who crave any detail that the tabloids can offer about the life of their beloved idol, Céline. The tabloids construct a sense that the singer is sharing her most private moments with her fans, including the heartbreak of a miscarriage.
A second thread is woven into the narrative, about another fan who does not appear onstage. Her name is Isabelle. She is confined to her room by her family, violently abused by her father and brothers, and in the final stages of an illness. Isabelle’s adoration of Céline is keeping her alive; it is her life: “without Céline Isabelle would not be a fan, so she would be nothing.” There is osmosis of identity that Choinière suggests is an effect of consumerism. Fans of celebrities assume a fabricated intimacy with their idols, to the degree that a fan like Isabelle can lose her identity. Or does she? Isabelle’s identity seems to be assumed by Oracle, one of the employees at Walmart, who suffers from psychiatric problems. Oracle says, “I stop in front of the mirror. I am looking at you. You’re looking at me. We smile at each other—disappear.” It would seem that [End Page 249] consumer culture creates a set of refracting images, none of which has substance.
Nanay (Mother): A Testimonial Play is by Geraldine Pratt and Caleb Johnston, written in collaboration with the Philippine Women Centre of B.C. The play is largely verbatim extracts from interviews conducted over a fifteen-year period with Filipino women who...