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Toronto, Playwrights Canada Press, 1993. 236pp, paper, $14.95,
ISBN 0-88754-493-2. Jehanne of the Witches/Sally Clark and A Woman's Comedy/Beth Herst. CIP

Grades 12 and up / Ages 17 and up

Reviewed by Alan Thomas

Volume 22 Number 6
1994 November / December

This misleading title, suggesting western frontier history, masks two contemporary plays about European women, Sally Clark's Jehanne of the Witches and Beth Herst's Woman's Comedy. Both have been performed at the Tarragon Theatre, which dedicates itself to Canadian work.

The "Big Time Women" are Joan of Arc and Aphra Behn, historical figures who evidently inspire contemporary women by successes achieved in male-dominated societies. Clark claims that her play is "historically accurate"; Herst says that hers is not it does not follow the chronology of Behn's life.

A detailed filmography accompanies the chronology, extensive bibliography and numerous illustrations characteristic of the "Canadian Biography" series. An optional purchase covering the same ground as Cronenberg on Cronenberg (Knopf Canada, 1992).

But the question of historical strictness seems irrelevant since both plays are vehicles for the presentation of contemporary women's concerns. The heroines are models of female self-assertion, persistence and courage, and both women have to keep their heads against dreadful pressures. Joan is supported by her voices, which Clark presents as female magic (even St. Michael speaks with a woman's voice), and a Milk Goddess, pleasing to feminists and adherents of New Age irrationalism, is invoked. Aphra Behn, on the other hand, is put in a love story, given the conventional property of woman's capacity to love as her support and justification, and meets her lover again in the epilogue. A noticeable motif of both plays is the degree of close association shown between women and male homosexuals, fellow outsiders in a hostile world.

These are interesting plays for feminist courses in which consciousness-raising is an aim.

Alan Thomas teaches literature at Scarborough College, University of Toronto, in Toronto, Ontario

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