Staging the North: Twelve Canadian Plays


502 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-88754-564-5
DDC C812'.5408032719




Edited by Sherrill E. Grace, Eve D'Aeth, and Lisa Chalykoff
Reviewed by David E. Kemp

David E. Kemp, a former drama professor at Queen’s University, is the
author of The Pleasures and Treasures of the United Kingdom.


Each of the 12 plays that make up this collection in some way represent
Canada’s North—its imagery, story, history, myth, landscape, and
legend. The North is perceived and dramatized as a place of purity and
freedom, even when—as is so often the case—purity and freedom
collapse into violence, greed, and madness. It is also conceived as both
stunningly beautiful and staggeringly dangerous. A recurring subject is
ghosts: the ghosts of madmen, explorers, past selves, vanished towns,
dead fathers and brothers, and unappeased spirits.

“Esker Mike and His Wife” (1971) by Herschel Hardin takes a tough
look at the idea of a mutually productive dialogue between indigenous
and nonindigenous cultures in Canada’s North, and declares this
marriage, like Esker Mike’s and Agiluk’s, a sham. “Inuk and the
Sun” (1973) by Henry Beisell seeks to redress our essential denial of
the life force implicit within death. “Changes” (1986), about
traders and missionaries, and “In Search of a Friend” (1988), about
drug addiction, are group creations from Tunooiq Theatre in Pond Inlet.
“Terror and Erebus” (1975) by Gwendolyn MacEwen deals with the
disappearance of Sir John Franklin and his expedition in the Canadian
Arctic in 1845. “Ditch” (1993) by Geoff Kavanagh also deals with the
Franklin expedition, but focuses more on character than on exposition.

“Who Look in Stove” (1994) by Lawrence Jeffrey is about the death
of three prospectors in the Northwest Territories in 1928. “Free’s
Point” (1996) by Philip Adams deals with a solitary Yukon trapper and
his descent into madness, while Wendy Hill’s “The Occupation of
Heather Rose” (1986) is a play for and about southern Canadians who
think they know anything about the North. “Trickster Visits the Old
Folk’s Home” (1996) by Sharon Shorty is a work in progress about
people in a specific northern community. “Colonial Tongues” (1993)
by Mansel Robinson makes a passionate plea for understanding Canada and
the Canadian identity before it’s too late, while “Sixty Below”
(1993) by Leonard Linklater and Patti Flather is set in a bar and deals
with alcoholism, displacement, loss of identity, and failure.

This is a fascinating and timely collection.


“Staging the North: Twelve Canadian Plays,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,