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 dialog tends to be realistic or hyperealistic, in the sense of producing unfiltered snap-shots of reality.
- 1 Sharon Pollock
- 2 David Freeman
- 3 Judith Thompson
- 4 David Fennario
- 5 David French
- 6 Rahul Varma
- 7 Eloi de Grandmont
- 8 Marcel Dubé
- 9 Jacques Languirand
- 10 Gratien Gélinas
- 11 Michel Tremblay
- 12 Roland Lepage
- 13 Carole Fréchette
- 14 Michel Marc Bouchard
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). "Blood relations" concerns the case of the notorious Lizzie Borden (1860-1927), accused of murdering her father and mother. Though not convicted, she is presumed to have been guilty. The main theme of "Whiskey Six cadenza" concerns criminal activities related to bootlegging in Western Canada of the early 20th century.
"The Komagata Maru incident"
Time: 1914. Place: Vancouver, Canada.
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The Komagata Maru docks at Vancouver harbor with 376 people aboard from India, but government officials seek to prevent the entry of the immigrants, although as British subjects they are entitled to. "We don't mind them dying for us; we just don't want them living with us," government officials tell William Hopkinson, head of intelligence at the department of immigration. 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 obtain the entry fee for these passengers. To discourage the passengers waiting aboard, immigration officials prevent ship supplies of 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, who defend themselves by wielding clubs and throwing pieces of coal. During the tumult, William impedes his friend, Georg, from firing at them, but is hit on the head by a piece of coal. During the extended conflict, government officials provide supplies to get the ship back to sea and at the same time harass the passengers, who finally give up. When World War I is declared, Georg announces he intends to work as a German spy. As the ship heads back to India, two Indian informants to the government are murdered as well as William. The murderer is caught and hanged.
Time: 1890s. Place: Fall River, USA.
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Harry has convinced his brother-in-law, Andrew, of transferring the deeds to a mill-house to his second wife's name, Abbie, a decision against the interest of his two daughters from a previous marriage, Lizzie and Emma, especially Lizzie's, who has bad personal relations with her stepmother. Wishing the 34-year-old Lizzie married and out of the way, Abbie scolds Emma for failing to inform Lizzie about an upcoming visit from Johnny, a widower with three children. Instead, to her parents' disapproval, Lizzie is often seen in the company of Dr Patrick, a known philanderer. "You have no idea how boring it is looking eligible, interested, and alluring when I feel none of the three. So I play games. And it's a blessed relief to talk to a married man," Lizzie says to her disapproving parents. When her father mentions that Johnny is looking for a wife, she denies it. "He's looking for a housekeeper and it isn't going to be me," she asserts. 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 reveals nothing. Hearing that neighboring children have sneaked inside his property once again to look at Lizzie's pet pigeons, he chops off their heads, a deed which grieves Lizzie to the breaking point. She refuses to talk about that incident to Emma. Instead, she announces that Harry will likely live on their farm. In addition, she surmises that their father's will and testament will surely put them in a dependent position after his death to Abbie and Harry. But Emma feels that attempting to interfere in such matters is useless and leaves her sister to go to a beach-house during the sweltering summer heat. When Lizzie pleads with her father to forego heading for the bank and finalize the deal, he ignores her. Cornered in the worst way, Lizzie follows Abbie upstairs while carrying a pile of clothes with a hatchet concealed inside. After coming back down, a 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 will believe a burglar murdered Abbie, 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 and kills him. She is accused of murder but is acquitted by a jury who believes the burglar story.
"Whiskey Six cadenza"
Time: 1910s. Place: Crowsnest Pass, Canada.
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Johnny Farley returns home after spending several years in the eastern part of the country. His mother complains of his never writing. He had nothing to say. "You coulda wrote about that," she retorts. Johnny is picked up by two employees of Mr Big, a hotel owner and rumrunner during the times of Prohibition in the United States. Despite being on the look-out for evidence of hard liquor sales at the hotel, Bill the Brit, a police officer, has been unable to find any. On one occasion, Mr Big faked being robbed on a train, his wallet with evidence of his involvement in a liquor deal to the States being taken away by Johnny acting as his henchman. Mr Big now offers Johnny full-time "gainful employment", which he accepts, the only other option being to work in the mines, the occupation of his brother, Will, who shows his girl-friend Dolly his unblackened hands, thanks to lye and bleach. Mr Big describes Johnny's duties, mainly to act as a chauffeur of a Whiskey Six, a fast six-cylinder automobile. Mrs Farley warns her son about Mr Big's adopted daughter and mistress, Leah. One day, Will dies in a mining accident, which Dolly is unable to cope with, showing several times to Leah a photograph of her dead lover. To help her friend get over her grief, Leah tears it up. When Johnny confronts Leah about her relation with Mr Big, she admits nothing. However, Mr Big's wife, Mama George, does not deny Leah's true relation with him. A fellow employee, Gompers, informs Johnny that Bill the Brit has now installed machine guns on the front of motorcycles to track rumrunners down. Bill speaks to Mrs Farley about Johnny's involvement with Mr Big, both trying to convince him to reveal bootlegging information, the officer being all the more adamant in that liquor killed his brother. 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. Although Mama George tries to convince Mr Big to permit Leah to leave town with Johnny, he wants to hear nothing of that. Warned by Gompers, Johnny drives off with the Whiskey Six containing the incriminating keg and crashes through a line of motorcycles set up as a roadblock. Leah is about to follow him but is prevented by Mr Big who shoots her in the back.
Also of major interest is David Freeman (1945-?) with "Creeps" (1970), "Battering ram" (1973), and "You're gonna be alright, Jamie Boy" (1974).
Time: 1970s. Place: Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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Instead of working at a sheltered workshop, three men with cerebral palsy, Pete, Tom, and Sam, are spending an inordinate amount of time in the washroom. 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 mimics homosexual activity as a means of preventing her to enter. For more fun, Sam reads aloud Tom's pornographic book. Sam is 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," Sam recalls. Seeing a cockroach inside a urinal, Tom mentions to Michael, another 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. "I'm gonna disintegrate you," he warns, to which she screams and threatens to call Carson. "Hey, be careful," Sam retorts, "He's got one, too." In spite of the workers' bad attitudes, 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 leave 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 enters to take them out of the washroom, Tom tells him he wants to quit, but Jim refuses to follow.
Time: 1970s. Place: Ontario, Canada
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While serving as a volunteer at Sunnyville, an institution serving handicapped people, Irene has befriended Virgil, a paraplegic as a result of an automobile accident, inviting him as a house guest into her home where she lives with her daughter, Nora, an amateur dancer. "What do you get out of all this?" Virgil asks. Irene just wants to help. "What if I said that the best way you can help me would be to climb into bed with me right now?" he continues, a comment she considers nonsense. In the habit of watching motion pictures every night with Irene, Virgil is quickly bored and wants to watch Nora dance at a rehearsal. On their way back from rehearsal, late in the evening, Virgil takes Nora's hand. She kisses him. He touches her breast. She gently removes the hand. The following evening, Virgil is on the point of offering her a clay figure as a gift, but before he has a chance to, she advises him to be more careful of his nighttime activities. "Certain stains are kind of hard to get out of the sofa," Nora cautions. Virgil offers the clay figure to Irene instead. They play a game whereby he mimicks the doctor at Sunnyville and she Virgil himself. While pretending to feel for painful spots, he touches her between her legs and they make love. The following morning, Virgil is contrite, but Irene avoids talking about the matter in front of her daughter. In frustration, he knocks over a Bromo-Selzer bottle. Irene insists that he clean it up from the floor. Because of his handicap, he does so with great difficulty. Tired of staying in the house all day, he asks her to take him out. Instead, she entices him to play doctor again. Later that day, Nora finds him drinking heavily from a rum bottle. When she finds out about the doctor game, she attempts to wheel him out of the house, but is unable to. She teases him by disrobing, dancing, and laughing. As he lunges at her, she become aroused. Suddenly, Irene shows up. Both women now want him to leave and so he hails a cab and goes away.
"You're gonna be alright, Jamie Boy"
Time: 1970s. Place: Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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Ernie arrives from work at a plant with a gift for his wife, Fran: a plastic dog, which she pretends to like. He next turns his attention to his son, Jamie, a former university student recently out of a psychiatric institute for treatment of depression. Ernie expects grandchildren from him and his daughter, Carol. "I want to be a patriarch," he specifies. When Carol arrives with her husband, Fred, she asks for scotch and water, despite being 3 months pregnant. Ernie refuses to serve her that. When asked about the toy dog, she remarks that it is "odious". "Yeah, sugar, I agree," Fred declares, unaware of the word definition. "Really nice, dad." It takes a long time for the family members to decide which pre-prepared dinner, either beef, turkey, or chicken, each would prefer. When Fred finds out that Jamie wants to watch a documentary on his father's newly acquired television set obtained cheaply as a factory reject, he wants to go back home and watch a hockey game, to which Ernie objects. Jamie and Fran reliquish their choice of programs so that the two can watch the game. Fred reminds Ernie and Jamie of how good a player he was as a child and demonstrates in the living room how he once scored a goal in overtime. To tease him, they prevent him from scoring a goal with umbrella and bottle cap used respectively as imitation stick and puck. The family watches Jamie's program while waiting for the hockey game to appear, but the image on the television screen becomes progressively worse. Ernie calls up several repair shops, but they either refuse to serve him at this late hour or ask for too much money. After he and Fred try to repair it themselves, the television set no longer works at all and they blame each other for the mishap. To prevent Fred from leaving, Ernie offers him a beer, but in view of her pregnant condition, refuses once again Carol's request for scotch and soda. Ernie informs Fred about his son's refusal to call up a woman he wants him to meet as a possible sex partner. Fred thinks he is afraid to. Ernie denies it and so they bet on it. When Jamie shows surprise at her pregnancy in view of her being on the anti-conceptual pill, Carol admits it was an accident. "Well, old Numbnuts couldn't get it up for three months, so I started to forget," she specifies. She married him just to get away from her father. Although Jamie objects to her drinking scotch, she consumes three glasses and then taunts Fred so that he edges closer to hit her, but is prevented from doing so by Ernie and Jamie. When she announces her intention to have an abortion, Ernie threatens to disown her; when she shows indifference to that threat, he backs down. A frustrated Fred taunts Jamie for not calling up the woman. He finally does, but the number corresponds to the fire department. Jamie and Carol laugh at their father's gullability. An angry Carol reveals why her husband left the plant for a mechanic's position at a garage: he was embarrassed about her father's attempted philanderings at the work-place, to Fran's astonishment. "But, Ernie, you're a married man," she protests. "Oh, sure," he retorts. "And look what I married: a real ball of fire who hands it out once a month with all the enthusiasm of a wet mop." Jamie, exasperated over his father's attempts at dominating all their lives, including his success at preventing the platonic friendship he enjoyed with a male homosexual, lunges for him, but Fred blocks his path. Carol turns way from Fred while specifying that she will change the locks of their home. Unperturbed, Fred notices that the television set is now working and so calmly watches the hockey game.
Judith Thompson achieved literary merit with "Perfect Pie" (2000) and "The crackwalker" (1980).
Time: 1970s-1990s. Place: Ontario, Canada.
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After leaving her home town 35 years ago, Francesca returns to visit her childhood friend, Patsie, a farm-woman. She is enthusiastic about Patsie's baked pies. "Every bite was perfect" she says. In turn, Patsie is enthusiastic about her friend's career as an actress, whom she first knew as Marie, from a very poor family. During their childhood, Patsie sometimes 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. Patsie regrets having lost track of her for so long, in the aftermath of Francesca's sudden departure while she was in a coma. Had Patsie told what happened, Francesca might have had serious difficulties with the law. 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. "It's like he's moving me under the floor," she specifies. In Francesca's eyes, Patsie seems content with little, in living on this dilapidated farm alone with her children. But Patsie disagrees. "It is you who never left, Marie" she declares. "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 held of her, he immediately let go her hand, which so humiliated her that she dangerously approached the railway tracks as a train passed by. There was a crash, both of them projected high in the air and Patsie winding up in a coma. The two women take leave of each other in a friendly way.
Time: 1980s. Place: Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
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Short on cash, Theresa wishes to come back and live with her girlfriend, Sandy. But after hearing that Theresa engaged in sexual relations with her husband, Joe, Sandy refuses. Theresa retorts that Joe raped her, but yet wants Sandy not to accuse him of it. In spite of this, Sandy accuses her husband of rape as soon as she sees him. Joe denies it. Joe's friend, Alan, calms everyone down by stating that from now on he will take care of Theresa. He offers to marry her and she accepts. Nevertheless, being short of cash, the couple are forced to live with Joe and Sandy. But after quarelling with Sandy, Alan moves away with Theresa. Tired of Sandy, Joe also moves away to get a better job out west. Now living together with their baby, Alan wants Theresa to do her lessons in reading and writing, but she is too lazy. She nonchalantly reveals that their baby is deaf. Because Sandy is afraid to sleep alone since Joe left her, Theresa occasionally goes over to her apartment to comfort her. One day, Alan is fired from his dishwashing job for stealing an egg. He meets Joe, who tells him that things are working well for him out west and that he intends to ask Sandy to go back there with him. It is soon evident that the baby is retarded with many medical problems. Disgusted with doctors, Alan throws away the baby's medications. He treats the baby's cold symptoms by placing her inside a warm oven, then strangles her to death in front of Theresa by pretending to caress her. Sandy discovers the baby's corpse inside a bag Theresa is holding on her way to the cemetery. She alerts the police before moving westward with her husband.
David Fennario (1947-?) wrote one of the first bilingual plays in "Balconville" (1979).
Time: 1970s. Place: Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
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Johnny walks along with Tom towards home, both living in the same building, neither with any luck at the employment office. Tom admits to his mother, Muriel, that despite receiving a job offer, he did not pursue it since it entailed waking up at 5:00 AM for minimal wage. "Hey, the working man!" exclaims Johnny on seeing the arrival of his French-speaking next-door neighbor, Claude, from the factory. "Somebody has to work, eh?" he retorts. Johnny remarks that there was another fire in the neighborhood the previous night. To his question as to where he is heading this summer, Claude anwers: "Balconville". Johnny informs his wife, Irene, a waitress in a restaurant, that his unemployment benefit cheque, delayed for a period of three months, is on its way in the mail. "They said that last week," she comments. "They'll say it again next week, too," he retorts. They are both irritated by the blaring sound of a campaign truck promoting Gaetan Bolduc, the local candidate for parliament as a member of the Liberal party. Muriel repeatedly calls Tom that his supper is ready, but he fails to move, and so she spills the contents of the pot over his head. Later, she confides to Irene that her stomach hurts, but is afraid to go to the hospital and find out what is wrong. She only agrees to go when her friend offers to accompany her. One night, Claude and Johnny totter back home after a drinking bout, arms around each other's shoulders, but the latter is surprised to find that none of his friends has joined them. When Claude offers to continue partying, Johnny pushes him away. "Get on your own fuckin' side," he warns. Claude grumbles against the English. When all the beer is consumed, Claude prepares to drive to town for more, but his car breaks down and he cannot repair it. Alone with Claude's teenage daughter, Diane, Tom reveals his intention of heading for the United States to find work. He asks her to join him, but on realizing that they know each other only superficially, he retracts the offer. One Sunday afternoon, Claude and Johnny watch a baseball game on separate television sets from the same balcony, both cursing the losing home team. When Irene confronts her husband about his drinking bouts, he responds that her timing is bad. He asks Claude what he thinks of the game, but Thibault, a delivery boy, retorts that Claude does not speak English anymore. An irritated Johnny nails a Canadian flag over his window to show up both Frenchmen, but is nonplussed on seeing Claude hoist up an even larger Quebec flag. When Gaetan arrives to canvas for votes, he is greeted in an unfriendly way by Muriel, Johnny, and Claude. Just for the sake of fun, Johnny takes Thibault's delivery basket and throws an egg at Claude, then laughingly hands the basket over to Thibault, blaming the prank on him. Claude is not fooled. He and Johnny shove each other, but their wives break up the fight. Unable to cross the border to the States for lack of money, Tom returns home. The next day, Claude listlessly returns home from work, out of a job because the management chose to move the company over to Taiwan for the cheaper labor. Muriel informs Irene that the doctors have finally diagnosed she has ulcers that must be operated on. Irene encourages Johnny to offer his sympathy to Claude, but he is rebuffed. Johnny thinks he should get back to what he did as a youth: playing music. Amid these hassles, a fire breaks out down down the street and the flames spread towards their building. Claude and Johnny hurriedly move out their television sets and beer. The men collide on the balcony and start to fight until their wives break it up. Claude requests Johnny's help in carrying down the sofa, which he agrees to. To return the favor, Claude mounts the stairs alongside Johnny, but their roof collapses as the campaign voice blares out again.
David French (1939-2010) wrote a successful pool-room drama in "One crack out" (1983).
"One crack out"
Time: 1970s. Place: Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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Jack the Hat asks Charlie to bet $50 on his behalf on two horse races, but, worried about the possibility of sexual impotence with his girlfriend, Helen, he goes over instead to see a prostitute, Wanda, and forgets about the bet. The horses he was supposed to have bet on win the race, so that he owes Jack $3000, but can only raise up one third of that sum. With a friend, Sam, he tries 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 now owes that sum to him. Charlie is given two days to obtain that sum, or else Bulldog will break his hands, the pool-player's income. 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 her client that she informs her pimp, Jack, about the matter, so that all the loan sharks in town refuse Charlie the loan he needs to pay off Bulldog. To help Charlie, Helen sleeps with Bulldog and then begs him for one day's respite. But she is unable to soften the collector. In a final attempt to obtain the money, Charlie proposes to Bulldog a single one crack out game for the entire sum, which he accepts. In addition, he accepts a $500 bet that Jack puts down on Charlie because even in his desperate condition he might win.
Rahul Varma (1952-?) explored the problems of Iranian immigrants in Canada with "Counter offence" (1996).
Time: 1990s. Place: Canada.
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Shapoor, an Iranian immigrant student wishing to remain in Canada, receives $100,000 worth of Persian rugs from his father and expects to sell them should he obtain a loan from his wife, Shazi, a Canadian citizen. But since she already has two dependants, her two parents originating from India, she refuses to co-sign a loan with him. Angered by this refusal, Shapoor assaults her and is arrested. To get Shapoor out of her life, Shazi's parents advise her to withdraw her support of his immigration application and divorce him, which she reluctantly agrees to do. Informed that Shapoor was mistreated by the arresting officer, his lawyer, Moolchand, accuses Sergeant Galliard of racist belligerence. Moolchand succeeds in obtaining Shapoor's release on bond money, with the Persian carpets used as security. He then pleads 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. Still frustrated over his wife's refusal to help, Shapoor assaults her a second time and is imprisoned again. Beginning to tire over the whole affair, Shapoor tells Moolchand he wishes to withdraw the assault charges against Galliard. Frustrated about his client's attitude, Moolchand hits him. Nonplussed, Shapoor says he now wishes to leave the country. He is eventually released from jail by Prougault, Galliard's former commanding officer, on a stricter restraining order. Meanwhile, Shazi discovers she is pregnant and so decides to stay with her husband after all. Hating the sight of Shapoor, Shazi's mother, Shafiqa, asks Prougault to prevent their living together. While Moolchand succeeds in augmenting the number of men of Indian origin on the police force, he is accused by Shapoor and Clarinda of lying at court proceedings. In addition, Shapoor accuses Moolchand of ignoring his wish to drop the charges against Galliard. Instead, Shapoor wants to apologize to Galliard. Hoping to rid the country of such men, Prougault angrily confronts Shapoor. Galliard discovers Shapoor's body, murdered by Prougault, but the man accused of the crime is Galliard himself.
Eloi de Grandmont
In French-speaking Canada, the plays of Eloi de Grandmont (1921-1970) have been well appreciated, particularly "Un fils à tuer" (A son worth killing, 1949).
"A son worth killing"
Time: Early Colonial. Place: Canada.
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John is carried back home by his father and mother after wandering too long and losing consciousness in the forest. On waking up, he repeats his intention of leaving them, though without knowing where. "If everyone did as you do, where would the country be?" his father asks, to which he responds: "You didn't reason in that way when you left France." The mother tells her husband that in her view their son resembles him, but he denies it, calling him a dreamer. "I 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 cries out in frustration. He cajoles his son's girlfriend, Helen, so that the two may love each other and so remain in the same region, but when he witnesses in secret that John does not love her, he orders her out. John is determined to follow. He takes out his travel-bag and leaves. In despair at the prospect of losing his son, the father goes out and shoots him.
Also of note is Marcel Dubé (1930-?), particularly "Un simple soldat" (A simple soldier, 1958) and "Florence" (1957, revised 1969).
"A simple soldier"
Time: 1940s and 1950s. Place: Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
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Joseph returns from the army to live with his family without ever having gone overseas during World War II. As he enters the house, his father's second wife, Bertha, greets him sourly, from whom he cannot expect even to get a meal. In the opinion of 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 as a whore for her pimp, Little Mine. While a park orchestra plays "God save the king!" the French-speaking anti-British Joseph and his cronies throw a bottle filled with water and stones to disrupt the music. To amuse street-children, he puts 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 as a worker at a night club for Little Mine, and after that as a whore. In Bertha's view, her marrying a second time was a big mistake. Joseph's father, Edward, has had enough of his son's frivolities: either he finds work or out he goes. When Joseph asks his father to work by his side as a truck-driver, the latter reveals that 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 winds up as a used car salesman and Emile as a tramway conductor. However, Joseph's hot temper gets the better of him. He insults his boss, Little Mine, and loses his job. Joseph and Emile 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 in their pockets. With his son away, Edward has been drinking more heavily. Armand says his heart is too weak for that. "That's not what will kill me, Armand," he retorts. 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 must pay $1,000 to Little Mine or go to prison along with Emile. The latter begs for Edward's help, who reluctantly agrees against Armand's advice, who nevertheless backs up the loan. Back at work, Joseph loses his first paycheck to cards and alcohol instead of paying back his debt to his father, who repudiates him and then 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 calls Flora, Bertha's only child by Edward, to help her with the dishes, he advises her not to waste her best years with family. Soon, Armand tells her that Joseph is dead. "He died as he wanted to, a simple soldier," he declares. "Lucky for him!" she concludes.
Time: 1950s. Place: Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
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Florence and her boyfriend, Maurice, work for the same advertising agency. He notices that her boss, Eddy, an account executive, is interested in her on a personal basis. She denies it, but when a fashion model, Madeleine, sees Eddy who greets volubly and enthusiastically, she shows signs of being jealous of her. Florence's fellow secretary, Suzanne, advises her to forget about Maurice, but she has qualms about ending their relation since he so obviously loves her. Suzanne then advises her to forget Eddy as well as her parents and liberate herself completely from her fears by renting an apartment in the same building as her own. At the end of the work-day, Suzanne pretends to have had an offer as a secretary in New York, but then reveals she was just joking. When Maurice arrives to accompany his fiancée out, Florence informs him she must work overtime with her boss. He is upset and pressures her in such a way that she can no longer hold off her real feelings by giving back his engagement ring. After their working day, Eddy drives her home. Her mother, Antoinette, notices their talking together longer than they should, but her husband, Gaston, downplays the importance of this. Their son, Pierre, announces he has refused to play the leading role in a school version of Racine's "Britannicus". Gaston refused to become part of his union at work. In the course of the evening, Florence appears listless and dispirited. When her father insists on knowing what is bothering her, she admits she wants more from life than what she has and especially wants to avoid ending up as they did, not even owning the house they live in. To Antoinette's dismay, Florence leaves the house precipitously. Gaston tells his wife he agrees with Florence's view: he has been too modest in his career path, always fearful of taking any type of risk. "At the age of twenty-seven: a stable situation, security," he reminisces, "then I didn't try to move." A confused Florence heads for Eddy's apartment with no clear intention in mind. She nevertheless kisses him and submits to his sexual advances. The next day, Gaston is determined to overcome his fears by accepting the position in the union, as does Pierre regarding the school-play. To their relief, Florence returns in the family fold, but in a dispirited way. "I wasn't ready, dad," she cries out, rushing off again. At work, she is disappointed on learning that Eddy merely offers her to live together without marrying. She decides instead to apply for the secretary's position in New York.
Another work of note in Canadian drama includes "Les grands départs" (The grand departures, 1957) by Jacques Languirand (1931-?),
"The grand departures"
Time: 1950s. Place: Quebec, Canada.
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After depleting the financial resources of his wife's father and sister along with her own, Hector, a writer yet to publish his first book, must move away with them to a more modest apartment. His wife, Margot, informs him that her sister, Eulalia, not having been consulted beforehand about their plans, is crying in the dark and refuses to go. When Eulalia stops crying, she suddenly appears at the door with a shotgun in her hand. Since she does not know how to use it, she hands it over to Margot at the moment it accidently goes off, though without harming anyone. Still frustrated after all these years, Eulalia reminds Hector of his peculiar behavior towards her when he first courted. He occasionally kissed Eulalia on the neck while trying to convince her of the necessity to take care of an ailing father and not marry on her own, thus freeing Margot to marry him. The doorbell rings, but the occupants are surprised at seeing not the movers as expected but Eulalia's lover of twenty years ago, Albert. To the family's astonishment, Albert asks her to leave with him and she accepts. Instead of waiting for the movers, Hector and Margot's daughter, Sophie, leave for the cinema. After some time, Margot is suddenly struck with the thought that perhaps Sophie has moved away on her own. While they wait for the movers with the groaning but speechless and paralyzed grandfather, a distraught Eulalia unexpectedly returns in disordered dress. The elopement was unlike what she expected. Albert proposed to take her to a hotel instead of marrying her beforehand and appeared very disappointed on learning she had lost all her money. She asks to be taken back in the fold and is accepted. Sophie also returns unexpectedly. She also had expected more from her man. "He promised me that one day he would take me very far," she says disconsolately. "And you went to the cinema. He has already honored his word," Hector remarks wrily. As husband and wife discuss the possibility of future changes that may never be realized, the grandfather, to their astonishment, looks at them angrily. He slowly rises from his chair with great effort, pushes away Hector and Margot violently, clutches a suitcase, and leaves the house.
Of some merit in the darkly comic vein is "Bousille et les justes" (Bousille and the just, 1959) by Gratien Gélinas (1909-1999),
"Bousille and the just"
Time: 1950s. Place: Montreal, Canada.
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Aimé awaits trial for accidently murdering his rival, Bruno, during a fight in the men's bathroom of a restaurant. 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 whether he can save her son by hearsay evidence. "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 adviser of Bousille, a remote cousin liable to say of himself: "I'm so bored when I don't help people out." Lacroix is glad to be able to interrogate Bousille and Colette, the waitress for whom the rivals fought over, both consenting to speak with him before the trial even though they are to appear as witnesses on the part of the Crown. Colette informs him that Aimé sometimes stole her tips. At a wedding, he once asked her to stop dancing with Bruno, advice 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 bathroom after Bruno first pushed Aimé and Aimé retaliated. Bruno had 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 likely to get a jail sentence. 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 leg. Phil warns Bousille that Henry 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 word of the outcome of the trial, Phil enters crying out in victory, but this happy bit of news is very much dampened after hearing that immediately after the trial, Bousille hanged himself in a garret for bearing false testimony.
Notable in the more satyric vein is "Les belles-soeurs" (The sisters-in-law, 1968) by Michel Tremblay (1942-?).
Time: 1965. Place: Montreal, Canada.
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Germaine Lauzon has just won a million trading stamps for household items and invites friends and family members to her house for help in pressing the stamps inside 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. 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?" One of the women, Thérèse, is forced to care for her demented mother-in-law. When the demented woman becomes agitated, Thérèse is in the habit of punching her on the head. Soon, a neighbor complains of the noise caused by the women's frequent arguments and threatens to call the police. "Good, call them up, we lack men," one of the women retorts. Two more women show up, Rheauna et Angeline. All the women, especially Angeline's 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. Once more, Germaine curses her daughter 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 that her friends and relatives have been robbing her all evening and attempts to get her stamps back, but they resist, with the result that the booklets and stamps become torn and scattered all over the floor. She is left weeping over their poor and unusable remains.
Of note in Quebec drama is "Le temps d'une vie" (In a lifetime, 1974) by Roland Lepage (1928-?).
"In a lifetime"
Time: 1900s-1950s. Place: Quebec, Canada.
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Charles-Edward is glad to hear that his wife gave birth to a baby girl, Rosanna, but is devastated when his wife dies. At the age of six, Rosanna plays with her older brother, George-Albert. She pretends that her doll is sick. Playing the doctor's role, he examines the doll for signs of cholera. Knowing that the disease is catching, he examines Rosanna's stomach and lower parts, but she backs away from him. He diagnoses that the source of the disease may be found in the brain and so cuts away at the doll. In horror, Rosanna takes it away from him. At the age of eighteen, Rosanna suggests to her friend, Willy, that, instead of working as a part-time laborer, he might consider working full-time for her father. But she grieves on learning that he prefers going to work in the state of Maine in the United States. Seven years later, after his son, George-Albert, left town to work for more profits in the city, Charles-Edward suggests to Rosanna that, instead of pining for the loss of Willy, she might marry another, for instance, Telesphore Tremblay, who appears to be a good worker. Though still regretting Willy, she accepts and has three children by him, living at her father's farm. At the age of thirty-five, Rosanna tells her husband that, in view of his success at school, their eldest son, Victorien, should continue studying up to the college level. But Telesphore wonders how they will be able to afford that. She argues that they should be able to, no matter how, since it is their duty to make sure that their children lead better lives than they ever did. At the age of forty-five, Rosanna receives the visit of George-Albert, bitter that their father left her everything in his will. "It didn't take you long to catch on to business," he grumbles. She counters that after receiving so little news of him over the years, house and land should belong to her. At the age of fifty-five, after selling house and land to the government for a large sum due to its favorable location along a proposed highway, she timidly asks Victorien, now established as an office worker in the city with wife and children of his own, whether it is possible for her to live with them in a small room. But this leads to nothing as the result of his wife's disapproval. At the age of sixty-five, living with her daughter a second-rate existence, she receives the visit of her brother, who still continues to harass her on the subject of their father's will, all the more so with her receiving such a large sum of money. During a heated argument with him, she dies of a heart attack.
"Les sept jours de Simon Labrosse" (Seven days in the life of Simon Labrosse, 1994) by Carole Fréchette (1949-?) is a comic play on unemployment.
"Seven days in the life of Simon Labrosse"
Time: 1990s. Place: Quebec, Canada.
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Unable to find a job by conventional methods, Simon Labrosse considers self-employment. On his first try, Simon presents himself before a possible employer by seeking to be hired as a stunt-man of emotion. When the irritated employer asks him what that can possibly mean, Simon explains that he is an expert in handling undesirable situations any client wishes to avoid, not knowing what to do or say, such as difficult confrontations with family members or friends. However, Simon does not convince him. At the end of the day and the following morning, he records on tape different thoughts to be sent to a woman working for unprivileged people in Africa. On the second day, Simon chooses to promote another line of work. He accosts a woman sitting in a café and proposes to make her feel special simply by looking at her and commenting favorably on her appearance. However, the more Simon pays attention to her, the less comfortable she becomes, so that his proposed position of acting as a personal spectator fails to achieve the desired success. On the third day, Simon intervenes in a discussion between a couple sitting on a park bench. Although thankful to Simon for helping them find the correct words to their thoughts, they are disagreeably surprised at being charged $12.95 for his service as a sentence finisher and refuse to pay. On the fourth day, Simon is interrupted at home by an employee in a finance department sent to take back his tape-recording device due to unpaid installments. His attempts at flattering her manner and methods of procedure for a further delay fail. Since hopes of earning money as a professional flatterer falls by the wayside, he is reduced to commenting to the woman in Africa aloud with no recording device. On the fifth day, Simon takes to the streets and proposes to pedestrians to take in hand worries related to world problems. A woman considers laying down one dollar for helping her forget pollution, urban violence, poverty, diseases, economic globalization, political crises, and Africa, but her boyfriend interrupts to say that thinking about these is not sufficient: the man must directly intervene in the world, so that Simon is confronted with yet another failure. On the sixth day, Simon receives the unwelcome news that all his tapes have been sent back to him, the addressed person being unknown. He defies the postal employee to say he has invented this person but concludes that even his attempt at acting as a professional receiver of parcels fails. With pressure to vacate his apartment mounting as a consequence of unpaid bills for over three months, Simon on the seventh day chooses to rest, but considers in the future the possibility of entering people's homes and replacing television viewing with live programming by his own person for any activity they wish to see.
Michel Marc Bouchard
"Les porteurs d'eau" (Written on water, more precisely The water carriers, 1982) by Michel Marc Bouchard (1958-?) plumbs the depts of government influence in people's lives.
"The water carriers"
Time: 1914-1928. Place: Saguenay region, Quebec, Canada.
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Because of his tendency to talk too much, Theo, a theological student, is sent from the seminary where he studies to a nun's convent with strict regulations about talking. However, he has a chance to leave when one of the nuns announces that he has been chosen as a translator for investors interested in constructing a dam nearby. He does so aboard a boat on Lake St John where he encounters Miss Barker, a secretary whom Theo's boss wishes to impress, since she is liable to influence favorably her boss on the dam project. He asks Theo to sell his chain given to him by his mother so that he may give it to her as a gift. Theo does not want to, but relinquishes it when threatened to be given an unfavorable report of his performance at the seminary. However, Miss Barker refuses the gift and the boss keeps the chain. Yet Theo abandons his intention of becoming a priest. The dam project moves forward, which causes the rising of the waters in a large land region, some individuals being able to sell their houses at a favorable rate, some, like Theo's mother and father, forced out against their will. On moving day, Theo announces to his parents and his brother, Thomas, that he has accepted a job as head accountant of the company responsible for constructing the dam. Thomas is disgusted. Theo wants his brother to join him. "Enter the new world, Thomas," Theo advises. "In your new world, the poor pay for the rich," Thomas replies. On the construction site at Alma, Theo wants to impress Lucille, a whore he desires as a girl-friend. He arranges for a Polish immigrant working there to hand over his handkerchief as a gift for her. Instead of a 7-foot rise in water level the company first promised the government, the water rises 17 feet, submerging whole villages. While on vacation in a hotel with Lucille, Theo is startled by a knock on the door and a voice calling out "Police!" It is his fellow worker, Leopold, with a message that their bosses want to see them immediately. It is suspected that an informer has been sending out inside information of their intentions to the defense committee protecting the colonists' rights. Theo presents Lucille to his parents. Looking out the window, he notices having been followed, either by members of the defense committee or by his own company, as he has been shuttling information back and forth from one to another. His mother notices the chain she once gave him around Lucille's neck, which Theo was able to recover. "Tell your Mary Magdalen that what she has on her neck is not a chain but a sacrilege," Theo's father blurts out, at which Lucille rushes away. Theo hands him an envelope. "I don't want your dirty money," his father declares. Theo replies it is a message to the defense committee, which the father burns after his son leaves. Shortly afterwards, Theo is discovered unconscious in his car with his tongue cut out.