IT SEEMS necessary to preface this review with a caveat, to point out some of the oddities of writing a review of stage plays. When I'm reading the scripts, I'm trying to imagine the direction, actors, theatre, and the material trappings of the production. I haven't seen any of these plays. Some of the plays reviewed here are wonderful to read, and I would wish for them many productions. Some are wonderful to read, but perhaps a production would have some flat moments worth enduring. And others are very dull to read, and yet have apparently enjoyed one or two successful productions. So in some ways it is inappropriate to review these scripts as if they were only written things. I will address them as texts for performance, hut since I'm not a director or an actor, their performance in this instance is private.
Daniel MacIvor's House Humans (Coach House, 96 pages, $12.95 paper) is the most exciting encounter. As a text, it is rhythmic, poetic, moving, mad; as a performance, I imagine it would also be dramatic. In two productions in Toronto the writer was also the performer, a one-man show, which alerts the reader to issues of self-referentiality; this script exposes theatricality without sacrificing the theatrical event.
House Humans is a hyperbolic monologue in the vernacular, sometimes hallucinatory and incantatory - qualities that
don't by definition make good theatre. MacIvor's single character is Victor, a psychotic cipher, a product of the various systems, a systemic "fuck-up." Victor speaks a sinewy and emphatic prose full of parable, non sequitur, delusion:
... Ma get your own life, would you please get your own life! But she can't because then she would have to go out into the world and talk to people and admit that she's a human being and she won't admit that she's a human being, why? Because human beings are what? BAD! And they stink, well they must they sell enough deodorant. But us eh, we're not afraid to admit that we're bad and we stink are we! Are we! Are we!
[VICTOR snaps his fingers. The stage goes black. He sniffs in the darkness. He snaps his fingers. Lights up. He is standing front]
The set and lighting would be stark; a chair and a small clamp lamp, which Victor swings like a stripped-down censer.
John Murrell's Democracy (Blizzard, 59 pages, $10.95 paper) is wonderful to read, but I can't be confident that it would work as well on stage. It's a classical (and anachronistic) polemic between Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson written in beautiful, demotic poetry. The single set could be interesting, and it's canny to use wellknown figures; it takes care of a lot of exposition and lets the playwright focus on ideas. And the language can be elevated, because these men wrote that way in those earlier '60s - when debates between a funky anarchy pitched against institutionalized idealism might have seemed decisive. Murrell mimics their verbal manners with great skill. But I feel it is a nostalgic piece disguised as pertinent analogy; do we really have a choice between body and soul any more?
Murrell has fine control of dialogue, and he's a humane writer: the characters are treated with warmth and empathy. The rhythms of each line, the dialogue, the transitions, and scenes are graceful and intelligent, heartfelt, a pulse that warms and measures the dramatic gesture of the entire play. Here's Murrell's Whitman:
... It's wild, off Paumanok there. It brings down ships, it drowns souls and sounds. Hardly seems possible it could
share the same simple name with our little secret pond here: water. Here it laves us, laps at us, winds warm brown fingers through our hair, passes tepid hands over our shoulders, down along our sides, like a lover. But I used to throw my body into the Atlantic and she'd throw me right out again!
This would be demanding on the ear of the audience. In the second act, Emerson tells a grisly story - with great pacing, and shifts of tone and intensity. The drama is rhetorical. One character, a young soldier, dies on stage, and it could be very moving. But the audience would need to love words, be wellrested, know something of Whitman and Emerson, and enjoy a narrative drama. The action is mostly told. And the debate, I maintain, is irrelevant to the contemporary audience. John Murrell chooses another well-known historical figure (Sarah Bernhardt) to speak in Memoir, which is included in Heroines: Three Plays (Red Deer College Press, 191 pages, $12.95 paper). Heroines is a valuable selection of plays from Murrell, Sharon Pollock, and Michel Tremblay, edited by Joyce Doolittle. I would love to see Pollock's Getting It Straight performed. It would be a challenge for the actor and director, and I think the audience might listen to this tormented monologue as they would listen to 12-tone music; it's difficult and gorgeous pain. The script has almost no notation, and it looks like a long poem:
EME bubu and eme and bub ollie ollie oxen all outs
in free run! ollie ollie oxen all outs in free!
how do you get from there to here?
spring forward fall back have
And so on. Without a break between scenes in the conventional sense, but with breathtaking variations in intensity, its sequences displace logic and create a linguistic drama. Both Murrell's and Tremblay's plays are single-set two, acters (though Murrell indicates that Memoir could be played without an interval) for two actors. Comparisons are an unfortunate product of this kind of quick review; but both plays unravel the heroine in dialogue with a friend/lover/ expositor. The writing is very polished. Tremblay's Hosanna (translated by John Van Burek and Bill Glassco) is misnamed on the book's contents page - a murderous typo. The two plays in John Mighton's Possible Worlds & A Short History of Night (Playwrights Canada, 165 pages, $10.95 paper) are in different ways launched from the playwright's fascination with science as it enters the paranormal regions of popular culture. I found A Short History of Night more interesting, in part because it's grounded in intellectual history as it has been processed - nearly -into folk-tale. Mighton writes fairly brief, clipped scenes that might make crisp and exciting transitions on stage. The characters are precisely drawn, sympathetic, and set in provocative relation to one another.
Douglas Rodger's How Could You, Mrs. Dick? (Playwrights Canada, 133 pages, $ 10.95 paper) is a complex murder mystery. The scenes move, fold, and comment on one another, and the pacing seems good. Rodger skilfully includes a lot Of information, some of it in expository narration, and this too is enhanced by the dialogue, competition, rapport, and sexual energy between two mismatched characters. The villains, all of them, are contextualized and valid and empathetic, and it's set in Hamilton, Ontario, in the 1940s, which suggests the possibility of a stylish