The French Play: Exploring Theatre 'Re-creatively' with Foreign Language Students


252 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-55238-213-4
DDC 792.02'807





Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson, Librarian Emeritus, former Assistant Director of
Libraries (University of Saskatchewan) and dramaturge (Festival de la
Dramaturgie des Prairies).


Pay heed to the subtitle of this text and read the author’s conclusion
first. There you will find his guiding principle of theatrical art
(namely: “Resistance!”) and justification for his strikingly
individual approach to rehearsal and performance: “subversive
processes tend to become ... socially viable and effective.”

Not surprisingly these pedagogical and performative strategies are
informed by Boal, Brecht, Artaud, Adorno, and Turner (the latter for
“subjunctive liminality”). From his solid background in 20th-century
metatheatrical philosophy Essif draws a wealth of practical advice for
structuring classroom assignments, appropriate use of theatre games and
even selling the product to both students and the community. But the
major part of this volume is an anecdotal diary of his specific work
with Jarry’s Ubu Roi, rather too easy an example to use in my opinion,
inasmuch as it is already a hybrid play well ensconced in the resistive
territory the author claims for his purposes. For this work and for
Essif’s more creative joining and integrating two disparate plays, be
prepared for the jargon of deconstruction in hyphenated form:
con-fusion, spect-actors, re-creation, author-ity. For the latter, he
has little respect.

Although Essif’s main proselytizing thrust is pedagogical, his advice
carries the caveat that “most of the audience members for [the
resulting] type of play are neither seasoned theatergoers nor seasoned
speakers and listeners of foreign language.” As proof, in his own
productions he goes so far as to use narrative summary scenes in
French-accented English, no less!

Author of Empty Figure on an Empty Stage: The Theatre of Samuel Beckett
and His Generation, Essif brings to his new book impressive credentials
as well as the practical experience of applying his strategies of
holistic language teaching and re-creative performance in classes at the
University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Indeed he was awarded the National
Alumni Association’s 2002 Alumni Outstanding Teacher Award. His
writing is, however, maddeningly unsystematic in style and focus, and
the tone is often irritatingly self-congratulatory.

This book is for specialized collections and instructors looking for
iconoclastic approaches for teaching language and performance.


Essif, Les., “The French Play: Exploring Theatre 'Re-creatively' with Foreign Language Students,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,