At the Zenith of the Empire.


136 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 978-1-897126-15-8
DDC C812'.54





Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson is Assistant Director of Libraries at the University of


The “playography” of Stewart Lemoine includes some 60 works produced between 1982 and 2006. His annual Edmonton Fringe productions are notable sellouts and his Teatro La Quindicina in Edmonton has mounted productions in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg, and New York. He is a five-time winner of Edmonton’s Elizabeth Stirling Haynes Award and has also won a Dora in Toronto and a New York International Fringe Festival Award for Excellence in Playwriting. Lemoine was a 2003 recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.


In a single word, this script is ingenious. Stewart Lemoine brings into play all his skills as an experienced theatrical author and producer. In her introduction, Ann Nothoff speaks of it as a meta-theatrical piece par excellence: the art of performance assessed through a play-within-a-play and theatre as perceived by both an onstage audience and, by extension, its parallel in the house.


The event in Edmonton’s Empire Theatre is historical fact: in 1913 the divine tragedienne Sarah Bernhardt performed the last act of The Lady of the Camelias before two packed houses. Lemoine’s comedy of manners uses Bernhardt as a narrator/commentator and guide for the modern audience. She then hobbles into her own historical role on cue and even takes on the droll character of a waiter to keep the action rolling. Actors filling in as waiters, businessmen needing constant contact through newfangled telephones, concern over the loss of historic buildings, and even a sly nod to method acting are only part of the ironic humour in Lemoine’s arsenal. For instance, he places a scathing question in the mouth of Bernhardt’s foreign co-star: “my assumptions about your city have been very dependably incorrect. So theatre is made here?”


Amazingly, while still maintaining a perfectly natural sense of period dialogue, he manages to incorporate a plethora of historical facts from John Orrell’s Fallen Empires: Lost Theatres of Edmonton 18811914.


Barring the occasional phonetically correct but ungrammatical French, this is a perfect model of modern stagecraft. At the Zenith of the Empire premiered in November 2005 and received a Sterling Award for Outstanding New Play.


Lemoine, Stewart., “At the Zenith of the Empire.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,