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Brief Reviews-Non-Fiction3
by Ann Jansen

THE PICTURE of Canadian theatre that emerges from A Well-Bred Muse: Selected Theatre Writings 1978-1988 (Mosaic, 178 pages, $14.95 paper) is a melodramatic one, replete with heroes and villains. From opening shot to fina salvo, Keith Garebian tackles his subjects with what he describes as "varying degrees of ardour and loathing." The leading lights of the Stratford and Shaw festivals are on the side of the angels, with the director Robin Phillips at the Olympian apex of this gathering. Almost a third of these reviews and articles, drawn from such sources as Performing Arts in Canada and Journal of Canadian Studies, describe Phillips`s productions and seasons in fulsome terms, while the rest of the Canadian theatrical world is treated more harshly. The villains at the base of Garebian`s pyramid of praise and blame are other critics, described as "provincial puffers, jawbreaking jargonists, or interior decorators." They and many of Canada`s playwrights are blasted as defenders of second-rate work, theatrical provincialism, mediocrity, and failure. Of Canadian playwrights, only John Murrell receives unqualified approval. Garebian acknowledges in passing the worth of "the odd play" by a handful of Canadian writers, but most of his references to home-grown drama are dismissive. Can you imagine the laughter with which twenty-first-century man, upon picking up decaying copies of such plays, will note that Canadian theatre critics once considered them as some of the most significant attempts to prove to ourselves that we have an exciting and meaningful national culture? he asks of such plays as The Farm Show, Les Canadiens, and Les Belles-Soeurs. Garebian`s writing contains many infelicitous phrasings: lighting has "the look of white wine," one play is "an explosive karate of emotions," and Canadian theatre is "a fabulous invalid:` His sampling of Canadian theatre is limited to the Shaw and Stratford festivals and a few Toronto and Montreal theatres, with a side-trip to London`s Grand Theatre under Phillips. These limitations, along with Garebian`s tendency to point an "accusing finger," make it difficult to celebrate this still unusual opportunity to browse through a critic`s reflections on a decade of theatre in Canada.

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