The Ends of the Earth
by Morris Panych
by Dominic Champagne
by Herbert Whittaker, Marian M. Wilson (Editor)
Adventures for (Big) Girls: Seven Radio Plays
by A. Jansen
Les Folles Alliees Present Miss Autobody: A Play
by Les Folles Alliees, Linda Gaboriau (Translator)
Post Your Opinion
by Michael Redhill
From Page to Stage
If printed plays are pure potential, they also offer readers many plaisirs du texte
THREE WEEKS AG0, as I watched Theatre Passe Muraille`s production of Daniel Maclvor`s Never Swim Alone, I found myself doubting that it was the same play I I recently read. The effect of reading the play was extremely soporific, but the production was a vital, CaIcuIIatedly artificial exploration of the play`s themes. Dadaist snoozer becomes I living theatre!
This is a problem When dealing with theatrical texts, and reviewing plays for readers preset-its difficulties similar to being asked to judge someone`s perfume on the evidence of a photograph. A I theatrical text exists in the realm Of Pure potential, and unlike a novel, it requires the reader not to invent the action on a private imaginary stage, but to project into the text the presence of life. A play text is a blueprint for action, and even though I am discussing four play texts in this essay, I believe that the stage, and not the page, is the final authority.
Morris Panych`s The Ends of the Earth (Talonbooks, 140 pages, $12.95 paper) is the only one of the bunch that I`ve seen, and I thought it compared poorly to his previous play, Seven Stories. In the latter, the setting (a Window ]edge from Which the main character is about to leap) served as all the exposition the play needed, and it allowed Panych to go hog Wild with the farce. In The Ends of the Earth, the entire first act is devoted to Setting up the punch-line, Which is the second act. That first hour presents 18 characters in almost as many locations. It was a tremendous waste Of focus in production, and it reads no better.
The story is Simple: two men, each thinking the other is pursuing him, attempt to escape each other and end LIP trapped together in an isolated, rundown hotel. Farce convention has it that holding the elements of the farce in an enclosed Space (cf. The Importance of Being Earnest, Loot, A Flea in Her Ear) is the means by which the farceur accelerates the Mutual antagonism of the various elements of the story. So it Would appear that The Ends of the Earth really begins in the hotel, but that lengthy first act roots the play`s anxiety in Proving it`s possible that two men could actually think each was after the Other, rather than getting right to showing What happens when they Must confront each other.
Farce is an opportunity to laugh at death -- existentialism with a tuba section -- and the practice Of focusing the Setting acts Oil the language as a magnifying glass does on light rays. Hence, the language Of farce is one-liners that expose the mounting danger by showing how Out of keeping the lightheartedness is with the threat. Panych ably exploits these farce conventions -- deaf old biddies cranking out non sequiturs and SO Oil -- but by failing to focus the danger he turns the comic salvoes into sit-com jokes and his play into a harmless fribble.
Where farce laughs at death, existentialism groans. In Dominic Champagne`s Playing Bare (Talonbooks, 112 pages, $12.95 paper), translated by Shelley Teppermen, an actress/manager at the end of her rope wants to recreate Waiting for Godot for her farewell to the theatre. This is it strangely Iuminous play that takes Godot its its background and reinvents it as it comments on it. The play mirrors Beckett`s with its circular, resonant language, and presents LIS With Six characters that Match in tone the six characters of Godot. In Playing Bare, Etienne and Victor, two "non-actors," are hired by Luce to recreate Godot. Most of the time Luce is in need Of medication to keep going, the rest of the time she simply isn`t there, mid the two actors wait and wait and wait for her. When she is capable of communicating her ideas to the actors, We find ourselves listening to a cogent argument against separating I mg real life from the stage, because, Luce believes, the only way to combat the loneliness of our existence is to make Supposed escapes, such as the theatre, as real as our "real" lives. The play is also a warning that the theatre is dying, and when the theatre owner, Pipo, states, "Luce, we can`t live in a world where people think the beauty of what we do is useless," Champagne both captures the reality of the situation and issues a challenge to all theatre workers.
Like Playing Bare, the collective Les Folles Alliees`s Miss Autobody (Gynergy/Ragweed, 103 pages, $10.95 paper), translated by Linda Gaboriau, is a Quebecois work, and in both cases, I was impressed with the directness and seriousness. It`s a quality unique to French Canada that Such potentially heavy subjects as pornography and the loneliness of our existence can be treated with so much verve and such great good humour, with no time wasted on proving the Deep Importance of the enterprise. To this end, Les Folles Alliees`s spirited attack on porn in Miss Autobody manages also to affirm love for men, women, and eroticism while grinding our noses in violence and filth. Improbably a musical, Miss Autobody is full of songs and silliness (even the stage directions are funny) but the play concludes with a sudden, graphically intensifying montage of porn. Les Folles Alliees emphasize the importance of this jarring incursion of reality in an afterword, saying that "laughing at pornography and violence against women is absolutely unacceptable unless that power is used as bait and becomes caustic and denunciatory." I imagine that this kind of theatrical hijacking was highly effective live, and the play reads as that rare piece of blatantly political theatre that works.
The lives of women are further explored in the seven radio plays collected in Adventures for (Big) Girls (Blizzard, 172 pages, $16.95 paper), edited by Ann Jansen. The task set these six writers (Banuta Rubess is represented twice) was to write in any way they wished about the lives of real women. The best of the plays in Adventures for (Big) Girls are the ones that are least reverent of their subject matter, and that zero in on something worth obsessing about rather than being "true" to the life being explored. For this reason, I found many of the plays weak, and the writers not up to the risky task of inventing much more than a recapitulation of the known facts, although some of these assemblages were more inventive than others, Such as Rubess`s Oblivion, a fever-dreamy tale of the bad-girl and thrill-seeker Isabelle Eberhardt. Rubess`s other play in the collection, No. Here Comes Ulrike Meinhof, is much more interesting, using the medium of radio to transubstantiate the ghost of the dead activist Meinhof into the studio where the broadcast of the play is originating. In the broadcast of No..., the CBC sound engineer Joanne Anka actually played herself being attacked by Meinhof`s ghost, who is furious about the portrayal of herself in Rubess`s play.
Listeners who tuned in to the middle of the broadcast may have had a modem War of the Worlds experience (after demanding the broadcast be altered, Meinhof begins to strangle Anka on air), but despite the text`s clever reality-bending, No... is more effective as an exploration of ideas of representation than as a version of Meinhof`s life.
The play I liked best, indeed, my favourite of everything discussed here, was Linda Griffiths`s The Duchess: Pieces of Wallis Simpson. Griffiths is simply a writer at the top of her form, and The Duchess, which is ostensibly a portrait of Wallis Simpson, is not at all a slavish account of Wallis or the exking, Edward, as much as it is an opportunity for Griffiths to work out some ideas of where love grows. By questioning whether Wallis actually loved Edward, Griffiths is able to distil some of the myth into a quest for real people and real motivations. Pathetic and hilarious by turns, it`s gorgeously turned out. A teeny tiny masterpiece.
And, finally, two books that aren`t play texts. George Mann`s Theatre Lethbridge (Detselig, 434 pages, $29.95 paper) is a complete and exhaustively detailed history of theatre in that city. It`s 434 oversize pages long. And that`s the shortest review I`ve ever written of a book.
Herbert Whittaker`s Whittaker`s Theatricals (Simon & Pierre/Dundurn, 264 pages, $18.99 paper), on the other hand, is only 250 pages of big type, but it couldn`t have been short enough for me. In preparing to discuss this book, I wrote an enraged filibuster in longhand, which I shall safely store in a place where it can`t get me sued. Whittaker, the Globe`s theatre critic from 1952 to 1975, simply appears to be trying to ensure his ascension to whatever hallowed hall we store our great benefactors in. The book is a collection of essays dedicated to proving Canada`s status as an international theatrical force by showing evidence in the form of various visits to our little country from great artists, and by dint of the successes of our Canadians abroad. That little hypothesis Should sicken most readers, but the real skinny is that all of these events, defections, and great occurrences are somehow tied to Mr. Whittaker, who encouraged some of these "dear friends" at key moments, or was, "I daresay," the first to recognize the value of some illustrious personage, or was the means through which certain things got done (for instance, his very own production of Galileo in 195 1, which he believes "linked Canada to world theatre"). Reading this book gives the impression that nothing much of interest has happened in Canadian theatre since the mid-`70s, which is, I guess, when Mr. Whittaker began pondering his own hagiography. In the course of expounding his ridiculous hypothesis, Whittaker manages to put his Olivierian ego in neutral once in a while to get across a few amusing tales, but I`d avoid this book just on principle. Our theatre is more than Burton doing Hamlet in Toronto, or John Colicos making it as Lear in Finland, and the evidence is currently both in front of you, and all around you.