History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Canadian Post-WWII
Plays in English and French Canada are generally about down-to-earth people, the sentiments expressed by central characters often being simple if not crude. The dramas are often domestic, mostly about ordinary people, but often about violent characters, reminiscent of German Expressionism. The dialogue tends to be realistic or hypetrealistic, in the sense of producing unfiltered snap-shots of reality.
Representative of Canadian theatre in the English language since World War II, Sharon Pollock (1936-?) specializes in plays on historical events in the USA or Canada, such as "The Komagata Maru incident" (1976), "Blood relations" (1980), and "Whiskey Six cadenza" (1983). The play "Blood relations" concerns the case of the notorious Lizzie Borden (1860-1927), accused of murdering her father and mother. The main theme of "Whiskey Six cadenza" concerns criminal activities related to bootlegging in Western Canada of the early 20th century. Also of interest are the following playwrights and their works: David French (1939-2010) and "One crack out" (1983), David Freeman (1945-?) and "Creeps" (1970), Rahul Varma and "Counter offence" (1996), Judith Thompson and "Perfect Pie" (2000).
In French-speaking Canada, the plays of Eloi de Grandmont (1921-1970) and Marcel Dubé (1930-?) have been well appreciated, particularly "Un fils à tuer" (A son worth killing, 1949) and "Un simple soldat" (A simple soldier, 1958), respectively, as well as those of Gratien Gélinas (1909-1999) with "Bousille et les justes" (Bousille and the just, 1959) and Michel Tremblay (1942-?) with "Les belles-soeurs" (The sisters-in-law, 1968).
"The Komagata Maru incident" 
"The Komagata Maru incident". Time: 1914. Place: Vancouver, Canada.
The Komagata Maru docks at Vancouver harbor with 376 people aboard from India, but government officials seek to prevent their entry as immigants, although being British subjects they are entitled to. William Hopkinson, head of intelligence at the department of immigration, is told: "We don't mind them dying for us; we just don't want them living with us." The government alleges it can do so because the India-Canada passage did not occur on a direct route. Moreover, the passengers are unlikely to possess the $200 entry fee into the country. However, local Sikhs have obtained the entry fee. Meanwhile, immigration officals prevent ship supplies for food and water. The court rules that the immigration department can indeed prevent their entry. After much effort, the ship's captain is persuaded to charge the passengers with mutiny. As a result, policemen and immigration officials attempt to board the ship with guns, but are repulsed by the passengers, defending themselves with clubs and by throwing pieces of coal. During the tumult, William impedes his friend, Georg, from firing, but is hit on the head by a piece of coal. During the extended conflict, the government provides supplies to get the ship back to sea but also continues to harass the pasengers, who finally give up. When war is declared, Georg says: "This can't help but work nicely to me," thinking to profit from the situation by acting as a German spy. After the ship leaves, two Indian informants to the government are murdered, as well as William, whose murderer is hanged.
"Blood relations" 
"Blood relations". Time: 1890s. Place: Fall River, USA.
Harry has recently convinced his brother-in-law, Andrew, of transferring a mill-house to his second wife's name, Abigail, against the perceived interest of his daughters from a previous marriage, Lizzie and Emma, as Lizzie gets along badly with her step-mother. Wishing the 34-year-old Lizzie married and out of the way, Abbie scolds Emma for not telling Lizzie about Johnny's upcoming visit, a widower with three children. Instead, to her parents' disapproval, she is often seen in the company of Dr Patrick, a philanderer. To her parents, Lizzie defends her behavior in this way: "You have no idea how boring it is looking eligible, interested, and aluring when I feel none of the three. So I play games. And it's a blessed relief to talk to a married man.. When her father mentions Johnny is looking for a wife, she denies it: "He's looking for a housekeeper and it isn't going to be me." Harry revisits the Bordens for another business venture: transferring Andrew's farmland to his wife's name in exchange for money accrued from horse auctions and a buggy rental service. When Lizzie interrupts their talk, demanding to know what is going on, Andrew says nothing. On hearing that neighboring children has sneaked inside his property once again to look at Lizzie's pet pigeons, he chops off their heads, to Lizzie's grief. She refuses to talk about that incident to Emma. Instead, she tells her Harry will likely live on their farm. In addition, she surmises their father's will will put them after his death in a dependent position to Abbie and Harry. But Emma feels that attempting to interfere is useless and leaves her sister to go to a beach-house during the sweltering summer heat. She pleads her father not to go to the bank for the business deal, but he ignores her. Cornered in the worst way, Lizzie follows Abbie upstairs carrying a pile of clothes with a hatchet concealed inside. After coming back down, the servant discovers the hatchet and guesses what happened. Lizzie begs her to be silent. She plans to go to town. In this way, her father will discover the body while she is away and everyone believe a burglar murdered her, but Andrew arrives sooner than expected. With the servant sent upstairs, Lizzie tells him she could never tolerate him hating her. While he dozes, she picks up the hatchet a second time and kills him. She is accused of murder but acquitted, the burglar story believed as true.
"Whiskey Six cadenza" 
"Whiskey Six cadenza". Time: 1910s. Place: Crowsnest Pass, Canada.
Johnny Farley returns home after several years east. His mother complains of his never writing. He had nothing to say. "You coulda wrote about that," she comments. Johnny is picked up by two employees of Mr Big, a hotel owner and rumrunner during Prohibition. Bill the Brit, a police officer, has been unable so far of finding any evidence of hard liquor sales at the hotel. He mentions of a deal known to have occurred concerning a liquor shipment to the United States. Unknown to him, Mr Big faked being robbed on a train, his wallet with evidence of his involvement in the deal being taken away by Johnny. He now offers him full-time "gainful employment", which Johnny accepts, the only other option being to work in the mines. Johnny's brother, Will, a miner, shows his girl-friend Dolly his unblackened hands, thanks to lye and bleach, while Mr Big shows Johnny his duties, including the need to drive a car, in particular a Whiskey Six, a fast six-cylinder automobile. Mrs Farley warns her son about Leah, Mr Big's adopted daughter, but one she also calls his whore. Will dies in a mining accident, a fact Dolly is unable to cope with, showing several times to Leah a photograph of her dead lover. To help her friend, Leah tears it up. Johnny confronts Leah with her relation to Mr Big, but she says nothing. When questioned, Mama George, Mr Big's wife, does not deny it. A fellow employee, Gompers, informs Johhny that Bill the Brit has installed machine guns on the front of motorcycles to track rumrunners down. Bill speaks to Mrs Farley, both trying to convince Johnny he should reveal bootlegging information, the officer all the more adamant that liquor killed his brother, but he refuses. In frustration, Bill hits Johnny's drunken father till he reveals the existence of a keg lying in an automobile outside the hotel, at which he and a constable move in. Mama George tries to convince Mr Big to let Leah go to Johnny, but he wants to hear nothing of that. Warned by Gompers, Johnny drives off with the Whiskey Six containing the incriminating keg and crashes through the line of motorcycles. Leah is about to follow him, but is prevented by Mr Big who shoots her in the back.
"One crack out" 
"One crack out". Time: 1970s. Place: Toronto, Canada.
Jack the Hat asks Charlie to bet $50 on his behalf on two horses races, but he, anxious about his impotence, goes instead to see a prostitute, Wanda, and forgets about it. The horses win, so that he owes Jack $3000, but can only raise up one third of the sum. With a friend, Sam, he is about to hustle a naive stranger out of thousands, but Bulldog, a gambler and collector, not only interferes with the plot but gives Jack the $3000, so that Charlie owes that money to him. He has two days to raise up that sum, or else fear the worst concerning hands, the pool-player's income, or legs. In a desperate attempt to get it, Charlie and Sam hustle a rich client of Wanda's, but are only able to get $900 before he discovers the trick. Wanda is so angry at having lost the client that she informs her pimp, Jack, about it, so that all the loan sharks in town refuse Charlie a loan. His girlfriend, Helen, having slept with Bulldog, pleads for one day's respite for his sake, but is unable to soften the collector. In his final attempt to get the money, Charlie proposes to Bulldog to play for it all in a single pool-game. Bulldog accepts. He also accepts a $500 bet that Jack puts down on Charlie.
"Creeps". Time: 1970s. Place: Toronto, Canada.
Instead of working, Pete, Tom, and Sam are spending inordinate time in the washroom of a sheltered workshop for people with cerebral palsy. They receive government pensions and only token amounts for their work there. Jim, who receives living wages as an office worker, encourages them to get back to work, but they refuse. Sam resents Jim's more favorable position, calling him a "white nigger", a bootlicker for Mr Carson, the unpaid administrator in charge of the place. Jim seeks a position of power to improve public understanding of cerebral palsy. Another officer worker, Miss Saunders, yells for them to come out, to which Sam mimicks homosexual activity as a means of preventing her to enter. Sam reads aloud Tom's pornographic book, the former being reminded of how once he engaged in sexual activity with Thelma, also a person with cerebral palsy, at her house, who then changed her mind and fell out of bed, so that her religious parents discovered them partly naked and reacted hysterically. "You'd have thought they'd never seen a pecker before," recalls Sam. In view of a cockroach inside a urinal, Tom mentions to Michael, a man with cerebral palsy and a penchant for flushing toilets: "Why don't you use your ray gun and disintegrate it?" When Saunders enters, Michael turns from the urinal towards her with his penis in full view, saying: "I'm gonna disintegrate you," to which she screams and threatens them to call Carson. "Hey, be careful," retorts Sam, "He's got one, too." Jim defends the work done at the institution. When asked what program is planned for them, he mentions a trip to a glue factory, to which the others sneer. Disgusted at folding boxes, Tom decides to quit and asks Jim to go with him, encouraging him to find work as a journalist or writer. "You're not wanted out there, you're not welcome," Jim reminds Tom, to which he replies: "You're throwing away your talent for a lousy bit of security." When Carson angrily comes in to take them out of the washroom, Tom tells him he quits, but Jim refuses to follow him.
"Counter offence" 
"Counter offence". Time: 1990s. Place: Canada.
Shapoor, an Iranian student wishing to remain in Canada as an immigrant, receives $100,000 worth of Persian rugs from his father and expects to sell them should he obtain a loan from his wife, Shazi, already a Canadian citizen. Given that she has two dependants, parents originating from India, she refuses to co-sign a loan with him. He assaults her and is sent to prison for it. To get Shapoor out of her life, Shazi's parents push her to withdraw her support of his immigration application and divorce him, which she reluctantly accepts. Moolchand seeks to help Shapoor by accusing the arresting officer, Sergeant Galliard, of racist belligerence. Moolchand succeeds in obtaining Shapoor's release on bond money, with the Persian carpets as security. Moolchand then pleads with Clarinda, in charge of a shelter for battered women, for help in preventing Shapoor from being deported, but she refuses. As a result of an inquiry, Galliard loses his position. Shapoor assaults his wife a second time and is imprisoned again. Shapoor tells Moolchand he wishes him to withdraw the charges against Galliard, at which time Moolchand strikes him. In spite of this, he then says he wishes to leave the country. He is eventually freed by Prougault, Galliard's former commanding officer, on a stricter restraining order, presumably to rid himself of him more permanently. When Shazi discovers she is pregnant by Shapoor, she decides to keep her husband. Hating Shapoor, Shafiqa, Shazi's mother, asks Prougault to prevent this. Moolchand has obtained more men of Indian origin on the police force, but is accused by Clarinda and Shapoor of lying in court. In addition, Shapoor complains that, against his wishes, Moolchand refused to drop the charges against Galliard. Instead, Shapoor wishes to apologize to Galliard. Prougault angrily confronts Shapoor. Galliard discovers Shapoor's body, possibly murdered by Prougault, though Galliard is the one accused and put on trial.
"Perfect pie" 
"Perfect pie". Time: 1970s-1990s. Place: Ontario, Canada.
After leaving a small town 35 years ago, Francesca returns to visit Patsie, a farmwoman. Francesca is enthusiastic about Patsie's baked pies, commenting: "every bite was perfect". In turn, Patsie is enthusiastic about her friend's career as an actress, whom she first knew as Marie, from a very poor family. Patsie regrets of their having lost track of each other for so long, following Francesca's sudden departure while she was in a coma. Had Patsie told what happened, Francesca might have had serious difficulties with the law. In their childhood, Patsie picked lice from Francesca's hair. School-children threw stones at Francesca as the "girl with the running sores and the scabby legs". She was also subject to epileptic seizures when her mother struck her head. As Patsie looks out the window, she sees a stalker and suffers a generalized epileptic seizure, which once occurred in a shopping mall when the same man approached her, specifying: "It's like he's moving me under the floor." In living in a dilapidated farm with children, Patsie seems content with little, to Francesca's eyes, but Patsie retorts: "It is you who never left, Marie" She adds: "I think you are scared because children always see you as you really are and your child would see right through the fancy Francesca to my sad and lonely sweet Marie." Each considers the other "missed out". Francesca is reminded of a scene during adolescence when she and a boy from another town were walking hand in hand. When the boy noticed the low opinion other adolescents had of her, he let go her hand, which so humiliated her that she dangerously approached the railway tracks while a train was passing by. There was a crash, both flying through the air and Patsie winding up in a coma. The two women take leave of each other in a friendly way.
"A son worth killing" 
"A son worth killing". Time: Early Colonial. Place: Canada.
Jean is carried in by mother and father after wandering in the forest. On waking up, Jean repeats his intention of leaving, not knowing where. His father asks: "If everyone did as you do, where would the country be?", to which he responds: "You didn't reason in that way when leaving France." The mother tells her husband that her son resembles him, which he denies, calling his son a dreamer. Greatly frustrated, he cries out: "I would have lived a life of deprivation to see a son abandoning everything and to see his mother encouraging the most reprehensible of actions!" The father cajoles Helène to get him to love her, but when witnessing in secret the scene between Jean and Hélène going badly, orders her out. Jean is determined to go, takes out his travelling-bag, and leaves. The father, in despair, goes out and shoots him.
"A simple soldier" 
"A simple soldier". Time: 1940s and 1950s. Place: Montreal, Canada.
Joseph has come back from the army to live with his family without having gone overseas. As he enters the house, his father's second wife, Bertha, greets him sourly, from whom he cannot expect even a meal on his return. To his brother, Armand, he is a "failed soldier". He feels being a simple soldier is all he was fit for and now his chance has gone. To make some money, his half-sister, Margaret, works for Little Mine, as her pimp. While a park orchestra plays "God save the king!" Joseph gathers with some cronies a bottle filled with water and stones to disrupt it. To amuse street-children, he throws cats in boiling water. To tavern-friends, he tells lies about his war-experiences. He is glad to see an old friend, Emile, who did well for himself on the black market during the war but now is fallen on bad times. Margaret is leaving home, as a "secretary", she says, actually a worker at a night club for Little Mine, then as a whore. To Bertha, marrying a second time was a big mistake. Edward, Joseph's father, has had enough: either he finds work or out he goes. When Joseph asks him to work by his side as a truck-driver, he reveals the company doctor told him his heart can no longer sustain the job stress, and so he was demoted to sticking addresses on parcels. Joseph becomes a used car salesman and Emile a tramway conductor, but Joseph insults his boss, Little Mine, and loses his job. They go away together to trudge across Canada, living from hand to mouth, working only when they feel like it, returning three years later with no more than $12. With his son away, Edward has been drinking. Armand says his heart is too weak for that. He responds: "That's not what will kill me, Armand." Joseph and Emile steal a car from Little Mine's lot and drive it into a tree. In a hospital with a broken leg, Joseph, together with Emile, must pay $1,000 to Little Mine or go to prison. Emile begs Edward to help, who reluctantly does, against Armand's advice, who, in turn, accepts to back up the loan. Back to work, Joseph loses his first paycheck to cards and alcohol instead of paying back his debt to his father, who repudiates him and suffers a stroke. Too late to see his father one more time before his death, Joseph goes off as a soldier to the Korean war. Emile, now personal traveling secretary to an important businessman, drops by to obtain news of the family. While Bertha several times calls Flora, Bertha's only child by Edward, to help her with the dishes, he advises her not to waste her best years with the family. Armand tells her Joseph is dead. She concludes: "He died as he wanted to, a simple soldier. Lucky for him."
"Bousille and the just" 
"Bousille and the just". Time: 1950s. Place: Montreal, Canada.
Aimé is awaiting trial for accidently murdering his rival, Bruno, fighting for Colette's favors in a restaurant, after hitting him with his fist. His family anxiously gather in a hotel to meet the defense lawyer, Lacroix. The mother of the defendant takes Father Nolasque by the arm, and naively asks Lacroix: "Even if he's only a small cousin of mine, wouldn't you take him and show him to the judge, to prove we are good people?" The priest is the spiritual advisor of Bousille, a remote cousin, who says of himself: "I'm so bored when I don't help people out." Lacroix is glad to be able to interrogate Bousille and Colette, who consent to speak with him before the trial even though they are witnesses on the part of the Crown. As a waitress, Colette tells him Aimé sometime stole her tips. At a wedding, he once asked her to stop dancing with Bruno, which she ignored. He later read a love-letter of Bruno's taken from her handbag and slapped her for it. To make sure he will commit no mistake, Bousille has written down his statements. He is the only witness of what happened in the men's bathroom in the restaurant after Bruno first pushed Aimé and Aimé retaliated by hitting him. In the bathroom, Bruno entered seemingly to be reconciled, but Aimé hit him a second time, a fatal blow, as his rival fell and nastily struck his head. Lacroix is dismayed by this version of the conflict, not part of Bousille's original statement to the police, the omission being due to his nervousness at the inquiry. The lawyer knows his client is now unlikely to get completely clear away. Aimé's brother, Henry, together with his sister's husband, Phil, decides to take the matter in hand. Alone with Bousille, Henry offers to pay his hospital bills, provide him with a place to say at his house, obtain for him an enticing job, and buy him a scooter, if only he omits to mention the bathroom scene in court. Bousille is devastated, all the more so because of an incident regarding a man he once knew who had his hand sawed off after putting it on a Bible and subsequently lying in court. Aggravated by his hesitation, Henry puts his knee on Bousille's, at which Phil cries out to him the man will surely break his leg unless he modifies his testimony. Bousille surrenders, swearing on his missal that he will not mention the bathroom scene. Later, at the hotel, with the family anxiously awaiting news, Phil enters crying out in victory, but this happy bit of news is very much dampened on hearing that immediately after the trial Bousille hanged himself in a garret.
"The sisters-in-law" 
"The sisters-in-law". Time: 1965. Place: Montreal, Canada.
Germaine Lauzon has won a million stamps for household items and invites friends and family members to her house to help her press the stamps in booklets. After being roughly reprimanded, her daughter, Linda, agrees to cooperate. A friend, Marie-Ange, tells Germaine to her face that her winnings are unjust, at which she rages. Nevertheless, Marie-Ange agrees to help her. Six more women arrive, all friends or sisters jealous of her winnings and, as they lick and stick the stamps inside the booklets, sneak many of them inside their own handbags. When the conversation turns to contests and whether anybody else has ever won anything, several women, grimly looking sideways at Germaine, comment rhetorically: "Do I look like someone who has won anything?" Thérèse takes care of her demented mother-in-law. When the latter becomes agitated, she punches her on the head. After a neighbor complains on the noise created by their many arguments, threatening to call the police, Rose retorts: "Good, call them up, we lack men." Two more women show up, Rheauna et Angeline. All the women, especially her best friend, Rheauna, are scandalized on learning that Angeline is in the habit of entering a night-club where Pierrette, Germaine's repudiated sister, works as an entertainer. Two more women show up, Lise and Ginette, friends of Linda, unwilling this time to cooperate in the venture. Germaine curses her daughter again for not cooperating. Lise is pregnant, with no husband in sight. To help her out, Pierrette gives her the telephone number of an abortionist. Afraid to be repudiated, Lise agrees not to return to the night-club. At last, Germaine discovers her friends and relatives have been robbing her all evening and attempts to get her stamps back, but they resist, with the result that her booklets and stamps become torn and scattered all over the floor. She is left weeping over their poor and unusable remains.