New Canadian Drama 3
David E. Kemp is a drama professor at Queen’s University and the
author of The Pleasures and Treasures of the United Kingdom.
New Canadian Drama 3: Alberta Dramatists is the third volume in a series that, under the general editorship of Neil Carson, of the Department of English at the University of Guelph, seeks to make available to the general public and students alike plays from the contemporary Canadian stage.
The three plays in this volume are by young Alberta writers who are in the early stages of promising careers; all of the plays have received professional productions. Editor Dennis W. Salter, in a readable yet scholarly introduction, analyzes the shared themes, subjects, and aesthetic preoccupations that the plays have in common. The central characters in each play are all possessed by romantic, artistic inclinations. They all are engaged in asking themselves the kind of difficult yet fundamental questions that young writers feel should preoccupy their major characters: Who am I? What do I want? Who can I be? How can I change myself and my circumstances? What price will I pay to become a different sort of person? What is the meaning of my life? True to the romantic spirit of all the plays, the characters encounter stiff resistance — from their families, their friends, and prevailing social values — as they attempt to answer the essentially unanswerable.
In Frank Moher’s Down for the Weekend, the protagonist, Dougie Flint, finds himself enmeshed in a situation where there are no winners. Not content to settle into the farmer’s life of hard work, as tradition would dictate, he seeks instant materialistic rewards. These too fail him, and he discovers that there is really no avenue of escape from the numbing monotony and anxieties of his life. In a truly Canadian sense he cannot return to the past, yet he also does not wish to move forward to the future.
In Checking Out, by Kelly-Jean Rebar, the central character, Lindsay, is involved in the traditional search for identity. Her discovery that her only limitations to personal freedom are her own lack of courage and imagination may not be earth-shattering and new, but it does provide a sensitive study of why the imagination is stirred to an appreciation of its own virtues.
Finally, in Gordan Pengilly’s Swipe the central character, Roster, is successful in discovering himself because he relies on and trusts his own instincts. The whole play, in fact, is an appeal to the truth of the imagination rather than the truth of fact, and its evocative, parodic, and tongue-in-cheek style is immensely satisfying.
In many ways, this third volume of New Canadian Drama is the best yet. It splendidly complements the first two volumes and acts as a full-length companion volume to Diane Bessai’s Prairie Performance, published by NeWest Press (see CBRA 1980, entry 3116).