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Edited by Diane Bessai and Don Kerr.

Edmonton, NeWest Press. 1987. 272pp, paper, ISBN 0-920897-16-9 (cloth) $19.95,0-920897-14-2 (paper) $9.95.CIP

Grades 12 and up
Reviewed by Catherine Creede

Volume 16 Number 2
1988 March

While it may at first seem that four works as diverse as these belong together only for the most tenuous of reasons, the decision to collect these recent plays by Canadian women was a sound one. Though not similar in style or form, each play, in a different context, reflects the importance of the freedom to make choices for Canadian women.

Three of the plays deal specifically with women's alienation. Play Memory, by Joanna M. Glass, depicts the effect of a man's alcoholism on his wife and daughter over the period 1939 to 1968, anil examines the women's decision to leave. Wendy Lill's The Occupation of Heather Rose, the monologue of a young nurse, portrays her disillusionment concerning her power to do anything to change the lives of a group of native people on a northern reserve, and traces her growing awareness of her own isolation. Inside Out, by Pamela Boyd, traces one day in the life of a mother, whose attempts to find some sort of fulfilment through script-writing are thwarted by her separation from other adults caused by the dependence of her young son.

Sharon Pollock's Whiskey Six Cadenza, the longest and most multi-faceted of the four plays, places the question of individual freedom to choose in the context of a mining town at the Crowsnest Pass in 1919 and 1920, where the issues of prohibition, British and police authority, and the power of the mining companies all complicate the lives of the individuals.

With the exception of Whiskey Six Cadenza, the plays lend themselves very easily to being understood on the page rather than on the stage. The often clumsy, somewhat didactic form of Play Memory, where the writer is determined to ensure that the audience understands that the events are being depicted from the perspective of the memory of the daughter, seems less unwieldy in print than it would probably be on the stage. The Occupation of Heather Rose (which has perhaps had additions for this edition, including two epigraphs) reads so well that it is difficult to determine what possible dramatic purpose there would be in enacting it.

Of the four plays, Inside Out seems most successful, both as a play and on the page; the dialogue is powerful enough to convey to the reader the emotion of the central character; some of the dramatic elements, most notably the use of a caricature puppet as the eighteen-month-old son, are intriguing. Whiskey Six Cadenza, however, with its greater number of characters, more frequent dramatic incident and diverse set elements, one of which is described as a "gossamer depiction of the Crowsnest Pass," cannot be fully comprehended without enactment.

Separately, each play achieves a good measure of success at depicting women's experience. Read together, further elements emerge. The most prominent element, the role of alcohol in the lives of Canadians, elucidates the other plays. This is a good collection, both for its content and for its cost-contemporary drama of this merit is rarely to be had for such a reasonable price.

Catherine Creede, Windsor, Ont.
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