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.
Sharon Pollock edit
Representative of Canadian theatre in the English language since World War II, Sharon Pollock (1936-?) specializes in plays on historical events in Canada and the USA, notably "The Komagata Maru incident" (1976), "Blood relations" (1980), and "Whiskey Six cadenza" (1983). "Blood relations" concerns the notorious case of Lizzie Borden (1860-1927), accused of murdering her father and mother. Though not convicted, she is presumed to have been guilty. "The Komagata Maru incident" concerns a ship of potential immigrants arrived from India to Canada and repulsed for political reasons. 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" "destabilizes identity by linking public racism with Hopkinson’s own private fears concerning his mixed heritage…Cultural diversity within Canada, which has often meant attempts at forced assimilation or systems of exclusion for indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, is foregrounded in the play. Pollock’s play utilizes different registers, with TS moving from circus ringmaster to chorus to news vendor, and each of the registers is indicative of spaces within the community, where notions of ethnicity are explored and debated and/or stereotypes are reinforced” (Lane, 2003 pp 269-270). “Everything about the events of that summer and fall of 1914 is recreated as sleight of hand, artifice, role-playing, and spectacle or 3-ring circus in which we watch TS manipulating Hopkinson and Hopkinson manipulating the immigrants and everyone on shore jeering the ship and cheering the show. What Pollock insists we watch is the spectacle of William Hopkinson being gradually destroyed by the roles he agrees to play (of spy, racist, person-of-colour masquerading as white, and traitor to his own heritage). Reality, Pollock suggests, like an individual’s identity, is performed, and Hopkinson’s failure is his inability to see history as theatre and to imagine another more honest and liberating role for himself to play. The Komagata Maru Incident stages this moment in Canadian history as a kind of national allegory or morality play and Hopkinson’s individual dilemmas (his struggle with racial origins and present class ambition) as symbolic of the challenge we all face to recognize the past so that we can change the future by performing new roles in a continually reimagined community” (Grace, 2003 pp 53-54).
The historical events underlying "Blood relations" are as follows. "Fall River in 1892 was a typical New England mill town that owed its success to a fast running river, an abundance of Yankee capital and an ample supply of cheap immigrant labor. In Fall River, the well-to-do lived at the top of a hill, the poorer folks at its base. Andrew Borden's household, however, was not in the better part of town, despite a considerable fortune amassed in various enterprises typical of an industrial capitalist economy. He kept his family in a small, rather shabby house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. His daughter Lizzie, unlike the daughters of eighteenth century New England households who spun, sewed, churned and baked, quite simply had very little to do. Unlike more educated women of her time, she did not aspire to the professions or to settlement house work. She tidied her room, ironed hankies, occasionally taught Sunday school and was a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union and treasurer of her church. At age 32, she had become quite clearly a member of that category, New England spinster...In her trial the jury, twelve middle-aged, middle class New England gentlemen, proved unable to accept Knowlton's radical reinterpretation of nineteenth-century sex roles, unable to accept the notion that women might be like men, and perhaps, most importantly, unable to envision the possibility that if Lizzie Borden could commit parricide might not their own wives and daughters be capable of the same act? Within an hour they returned a verdict of not guilty. In a strangely ironic way, the constraints of her role as a nineteenth-century lady may have pushed Lizzie Borden to her crime but that same role saved her from the gallows" (Schofield, 1993 pp 98-99). “Pollock intentionally and skillfully leaves ambiguous the question of whether Lizzie is guilty or not of murdering Andrew Borden and his wife…Pollock deliberately maintains this ambiguity throughout the play. Without corroborating evidence, it would always be questionable for any author to alter the historical fact that the accused was found not guilty...Rebellion against her father’s insistence on traditional women role is clear from her protestations...She has both a strong desire to escape from her father’s traditional world and a thirst for monopolizing her father’s love...Lizzie is deeply attached to her father and afraid of losing his love for her” (Minami, 2003 pp 186-188). “Pollock has taken some liberties with the historical facts for the sake of heightened dramatic impact. For example, she suggests a symbiotic relationship between Lizzie and the maid, which doesn’t appear to have any basis in reality...She gives spinsterish Lizzie a romantic involvement with a married physician who doesn’t appear in any of the books on the case” (Brenann, 1995 p 260). However, this "romantic involvement" appears more to illustrate Lizzy's manipulative tendencies than to illustrate her romantic feelings. "Sharon Pollock found the right balance between issue-oriented drama and the drama of personal psychology with ‘Blood relations’...[which] grippingly recreates events surrounding the crime by using an intriguing play-within-a-play structure...Because the actress is obliged to put herself in Lizzie’s position, she is better able- as does the audience- to appreciate and understand the circumstances that might have driven Lizzie to kill her violent and insensitive father and her devious, self-serving stepmother. As interpreted by the actress, Lizzie is violent, stubborn and sharp-tongued, but what gradually emerges is a portrait of a strong-willed woman- unmarried with diminishing prospects of being able to support herself- trapped by the oppressive conventions of a society that give a woman in her position few opportunities for self-fulfillment. The death of her parents- and the inheritance that comes with it- give Lizzie the independence she might otherwise have never achieved. Thus, subtly and unobtrusively, Pollock advocates a feminist cause without compromising the moral complexity of the situation or the richness of structure and characterization in the play” (Benson and Conolly, 1987 pp 101-102). "Pollock’s work portrays many instances which bring to the forefront the idea that Lizzie Borden is of the marginalized and oppressed...One instance of oppression is quite evidential in Lizzie’s argument with father regarding her choice for a companion...Her father orders her to see Johnny MacLeod in an attempt to encourage her to marry, and Lizzie clearly objects to such an arrangement...Another instance of repression is brought to light by Mr Borden’s response to Lizzie’s request to work for her father...Lizzie’s stepmother shows to possess ‘traditional modes of thought’ and favours Mr Borden over Lizzie in every verbal conflict they have. She shows signs of no objection toward her role and position as a housewife, implicating her views and beliefs to be aligned with patriarchal policies...Lizzie appears to play the perfect role of a non-patriarchal woman being exactly the opposite of her stepmother and even other women" (Babagolzadeh and Shafieyan, 2016 pp 83-84). Lizzie “is attractive because she is an ironist, involved in the action and yet outside it, with a mocking analytical awareness of the limits imposed by sex, money, and social class, against which she struggles, and which arouse her passionate disgust” (Astington, 1995 p 263).
In "Whiskey Six cadenza", "Pollock's law enforcer is a dramatic revision of the murder victim portrayed in the popular histories: he is a sinister presence in the town, growing increasingly threatening as his attempts to shut down the liquor smuggling are thwarted, and he resorts to intimidation, beatings, and bribes. His vendetta against Mr Big is a personal one, but it also demonstrates the escalating potential for tragic and violent consequences of policing ‘an unjust and damnable law’...The conflict in the play is more in terms of prohibition and freedom than along cultural lines...The social conflict is played out in terms of the miners' and rumrunners' resistance to colonial authority. Mr Big has chosen his pseudonym for himself— as an obvious indicator of his large ambitions and dreams...His ‘chosen’ daughter Leah has no history; she is a foundling, and the casualty of his misguided patriarchal impulse. Mr Big has taken her away from a life of destitution and created an independent-minded young woman. She experiences the sexually exploitative consequences of his patronage, but she also finally makes her own choices: she chooses to accept Johnny's love, and then she chooses death when she realizes that this love can never be realized...She is shot by a patriarchal figure she has rejected” (Nothof, 2006 pp 239-240).
"The Komagata Maru incident" edit
Time: 1914. Place: Vancouver, Canada.
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The Komagata Maru docks at Vancouver harbor with 376 immigrants 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.
"Blood relations" edit
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 her father that she could never tolerate him hating her. He is murdered with the hatchet and she accused of murder but acquitted by a jury who believes the burglar story.
"Whiskey Six cadenza" edit
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 set to follow him but is prevented by Mr Big who shoots her in the back.
David Freeman edit
Also of major interest as a social critic is David Freeman (1945-2012) with "Creeps" (1970), "Battering ram" (1973), and "You're gonna be alright, Jamie Boy" (1974).
“Most unusual was Freeman’s Creeps, which depicts with wit and compassion the lives of a group of spastics at a home for cerebral palsy victims“ (Leiter, 1986 p 93). “The characters of Carson and Saunders are merely stereotyped authority figures. Yet the strengths of the play are abundant. Each of the characters is carefully delineated, and Freeman provides precise directions for their distinct physical movements. The particular attitude of each character to his situation is equally well crafted, often by language and behavior that is uncommonly crude and scatological...yet entirely appropriate to the situation...’Creeps’ is both visually disturbing and theatrically vibrant. The three ‘hallucinatory interruptions’ presenting ‘a nightmare vision of organized charity, all rowdy, romping do-gooders and an obscenely grinning Miss Cerebral Palsy’, theater director Urjo Kareda’s apt description, have struck some critics as at best irrelevant, at worst gratuitously offensive, but if they offend they do so for good reason- they offer vivid and memorable images of the patronizing attitude of organized charity that handicapped people find so objectionable. ‘Creeps’ is hardly a balanced analysis of society’s treatment of victims of cerebral palsy, but it movingly captures the sense of helplessness felt by Tom and his fellow sufferers: ‘It’s like I’m at the bottom of a grave yelling: ‘I’m alive, I’m alive,’ but they don’t hear me. They keep just shoveling the dirt’” (Benson and Conolly, 1987 p 90). “The tightness of the writing, the corrosive humor and the compassionate characterization all impose a fervor which demands an utterly committed response...The remarkable thing about ‘Creeps’ is its humor- rough, vicious, crude, desperate. This isn’t even the humor which skims the edge of anguish, but instead, the humor which must seem its own victory when hope is so remote...Freeman’s humor, just by meeting the crippling illness itself head on, helps us to see his characters through their own comic objectivity...One rapidly acquires an understanding of their bitterness, their sense of helplessness and isolation...They are equally critical in self-analysis. They have an instinct for their own fear, a revulsion against their own compromises...The dialogue is alert, alive, trenchant, the intense comic insight always in control, and the moment of despair and fear subtly judged” (Kareda, 1995 pp 70-71). As a documentary slice of life...the play is powerful, harrowing, grimly humorous and altogether absorbing” (Kalem, 1995 p 75). Freeman’s “principals are credibly delineated. The flow of conversation among them, as one argues for going into the cold, achieves at its best a lacerating intensity of emotional anguish” (Cohen , 1995 p 70). “All the men speak of their alienation from the world outside, the physical, social, and emotional barriers that drive them together into their own community. Each man reacts differently to his condition. Pete, for example, who wanted to be a carpenter, soon found the going rough and came to the workshop with a why not attitude, willing to pay for ease with humiliation. Sam...is bitter and destructive; he fights with every weapon he has- his urine, his vomit, his sexuality- to pay the world back for pitying him” (Messenger, 1974 pp 102-103). “The play’s attitude to sex is never sugared over, which helps give it such notable strength” (Whitaker, 1995 p 73). “’Creeps is about a kind of sickness, the crippling of the psyche caused by emotional dependence on a Big Mama...Considerable liveliness and vitality emerge from the spastic portraits, whereas the authoritarian figures are predictably noted for their lack of these characteristics. None of the characters develops during the course of the play, but each is clearly delineated. Pete...is the unofficial leader of the spastic group, keeping order, calming tensions. Pete is no fighter...Sam has accepted nothing; he simply seethes with hatred towards the system (an all-embracing label, in his thinking); his revolt, understood only in terms of revenge, is total...Jim is the outsider of the group...Jim licks stamps in the office on salary and is president of the Spastic Club- in other words he cooperates with the system...Tom is the only one of the group who has not yet found his niche, who has been unable or unwilling to finds a mode of self-justification which would enable him to cope with the workshop...Miss Saunders is easily shockable, a cold, rigid, domineering character, the sort who, lacking inner strength, compensates through threats and bossiness, consequently becoming a target for mischief. Carson is simply the stereotype establishment authoritarian figure...The narrowness of these two portraits seriously limits the play’s visions...There is no such thing as dignity acquired through adversity; if it were not for Tom’s determination to try and the possibility he might succeed, Freeman’s vision would be totally pessimistic” (Smith, 1978 pp 25-33). “There is a steady enough ring of truth to David Freeman’s ‘Creeps’...because the author has been able to stand back and extract from the experience the little bits of self-knowledge which hurt most...The play doesn’t cheat, either in the direction of sentimentality or rage. When Mark Metcalf, who would like to be an abstract painter even if one of his compatriots sneers at his ‘chicken tracks’, receives a letter of encouragement from an art critic, we are expecting a conventional keep at it letter routinely dictated...But it is thoughtful, balanced, startlingly hopeful, precisely because its hope is qualified. The man and his painting have both been taken seriously; the silence that suddenly falls among the rusted urinals in the men’s room where friends gather for cigarettes and stolen conversation is a silence that reaches us, too. Expectations need not be great to be real” (Kerr, 1995 pp 73-74).
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, spend 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 shelter. 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, Jim answers that it concerns a trip to a glue factory, to which the others sneer. Disgusted at folding boxes, Tom wants to quit and asks Jim to follow 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.
"Battering ram" edit
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.
"You're gonna be alright, Jamie Boy" edit
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 edit
Judith Thompson achieved literary merit with "Perfect Pie" (2000) and "The crackwalker" (1980).
“Crackwalker means someone who walks the cracks of city streets, usually referring to people marginalized and forgotten...All five [dramatic characters] are on the cusp of mental illness...throughout the play they struggle to articulate their feelings but are blocked by their limited vocabulary and poor communication skills” (Krasner, 2016 pp 453-454). “The slow-witted Theresa places the dead baby in a shopping bag and walks off with the intention of burying it. She alternately remembers and forgets what she has been told about being dead as she speaks to the baby in the bag” (Toles, 2005 p 6).
"Perfect pie" edit
Time: 1970s-1990s. Place: Marmora, 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 Marie 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 lay 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 with her husband and two sons. 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, which caused a crash, both adolescents projected high in the air and Patsie winding up in a coma. The two women take leave of each other in a friendly way.
"The crackwalker" edit
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. He 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 edit
David Fennario (1947-?) wrote one of the world's first bilingual plays with "Balconville" (1979), approximately two-thirds of the dialogue being in English, the rest in French.
“The title of David Fennario’s ‘Balconville’ comes from a punch-line of a grim joke popular in the slums of Montreal: ‘Where are you going for the summer holidays?’ is the question. And the answer from those who cannot afford trips...is ‘Balconville’...Billed as Canada’s first bilingual play...roughly a third of the text [is in] French...[Fennario] introduces us to three households peering at each other through the cracks in the walls, as it were. The only French family in the complex has trouble getting along with its anglo neighbors, who feel squeezed by the noise of French nationalism and make bitter jokes about separatism and the language laws...Johnny is by far the most attractive character on the stage. His wife, Irene, supports him by working as a waitress, but when she gets a dose of women’s lib and threatens to leave, she merely demonstrates how she’s becoming just like the other women in the neighborhood...In Fennario’s world, women aren’t any more effective at solving the problems of poverty than the men; they just nag and complain more...Fennario’s women are all either mousy nonentities or whining shrews who know how to spoil a guy’s good times...The camaraderie of the dispossessed builds to a kind of mock aria in a noisy outdoor party toward the end of the first act, and the exuberance of the singing, dancing, and mirth-making among people with little cause for mirth invites comparison with the celebrations in Brendan Behan’s ‘The hostage’...Emotionally and theatrically Fennario’s finale works because it has the ring of personal conviction” (Knelman, 1995 pp 229-231).
"The balconies of a tenement, as the only practical refuge from the summer heat, speak volumes about the severe pressures and limits experienced by the poor. This is why the set is almost the star of the show...To begin with, the set seems simply to signify the inescapable and unchangeable conditions of the characters' lives. But that is not the whole story. The balcony and the stairs function as connectors figuratively as well as literally, reinforcing the play's ironic contrast between the characters' misplaced frustration and anger and their common class identity. The function of the balcony is evident in relation to the two men who live on the second floor. Paquette is francophone and works at a job he hates. Johnnie is an anglophone and unemployed. Once the old animosity between Bloke and Pepsi is stirred, they find each other a convenient target for their anger at the condition of their lives. They hang the blue and white fleur-de-lys and the red and white maple leaf on their portions of the common balcony, and watch the same baseball game out on the balcony on two TV's in two languages, ostentatiously ignoring each other. Connections are made which imply the possibility of awakening to an awareness of common interests and taking action. When Paquette loses his job, Johnnie is persuaded to tell him he is sorry to hear it. All three households treat their campaigning MP with the same contempt. Irene on the second floor persuades Muriel on the first not to take out her rage on her own body but to tell her symptoms to a doctor at the hospital. Irene is a member of the Pointe Action Committee and tries to involve her neighbours. Johnnie struggles out of his lethargy and fixes the broken step. In the final minutes of the play, the building is threatened by a fire set nearby by a landlord. At that point the balcony and stairs become the means by which the tenants, faced by a common threat, can work together to save their belongings. The connotation of the balcony and stairs expands by virtue of this new function, from ironic comment on a common class identity to the possibility of common action, a possibility emphasized by the last lines of the play: 'What are we going to do?' 'Qu'est-ce qu'on va faire?' Balconville is thus a new development in Fennario's work. Whereas the environments of On the Job and Nothing to Lose stubbornly and successfully resisted any attempt to alter them or even redefine their use, this play ends with a transformation of the environment, not what it looks like but what it means. Perhaps this development is connected to the opening up of Fennario's dramatic world to include women. There is a richer humanity and maybe for that reason a greater possibility to imagine change” (Nunn, 1988 pp 1-10).
“In their quarrels and fights, young confront old, French confront English, and weak men confront enduring women...It is not the matter of resolving differences...but dealing with the injustices of a class system structure that allows exploitation of the poor...The working class people of Pointe-Saint Charles- particularly the men- can be lazy, apathetic, and bigoted. The women- especially Irene, who actively supports the Pointe Action Committee- have more fortitude and determination. That the characters end the play by asking a question- even if it is obviously rhetorical- rather than taking action points to their inability to organize effective opposition to common enemies, such as landlords and politicians...Repairing a broken step in Balconville’s tenement is a major achievement; repairing the damage caused by social injustice, the play suggests, is impossible without fundamental changes of attitudes and priorities by the victims of the injustice” (Benson and Conolly, 1987 pp 98-99). “The characters understand and speak both languages, although the second language is not entirely mastered, but they come to refuse to speak the same language in conversation and, as a consequence, stop speaking to each other at all” (Robert, 1995 p 122).
“Balconville” “is a static play because the characters do nothing beyond creating the atmosphere. The only events are imposed by external forces. Paquette, after grumbling for years about his mechanical job, is crestfallen when he loses it...Even the title of the play signifies the embittered passivity of its characters” (Huebert, 1995 p 232). “There are many touches that must surely have hit the Montreal public with a sense of recognition such as the affronted Paquette père’s refusals to pollute his lips with the English language, and the sight of two men each sitting back to back watching the same ballgame on two separate television sets. The periodic crises all derive truthfully from the environment; a drunk scene that wrecks a party, the destruction of poor Mme Paquette’s cherished pot plants, and all the shouting and door slamming spring from the no-hope frustrations of society, with no judgments against individual characters” (Wardle, 1995 p 233).
This is "rough theatre...horizontal linear, masculine, materialist, objective, and referential...All the Anglo characters show some sense of horizontal time and space. 'Getting out' and 'moving on' are repeated themes among the English speakers. Tom attempts to hitchhike to New York City but only gets as far as Ormstown. Muriel talks of her husband, who is a sailor. Johnny brags about pulling off his 'midnight move' as soon as his [unemployment cheque] arrives. Even Irene talks about her chances of remarrying and reminisces about her old boyfriend who is now a teacher in NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, a middle-class Montreal neighborhood). The Francophone characters seem governed by some unspoken notion of fate; they never speak in terms of somewhere out there being a solution or even a possibility. In fact, 'out there' hardly exists. The ironic distance and horizontal map perspective of the play result in the inevitable diminution and some mockery of the garden penchants of the Francophone characters. For example, we are charmed by Cécile's gentle disposition, her connections with nature, her tending to birds, her knowledge of the constellations, and home life, but her ignorance of geography mocks her. When Paquette loses his job, Cécile is at a loss as to why the company can’t take her husband on the move. She later asks if Taiwan isn’t in Vermont" (Reid, 2001 pp 295-306). The reason for this Anglo-French dichotomy is that English people can go elsewhere in Canada or to the USA, while the French, unless bilingual, are stuck in Quebec except for parts in New Brunswick, and so their knowledge in geography is perceived as irrelevant to improving their social rank.
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 edit
David French (1939-2010) wrote a successful pool-room drama in "One crack out" (1983).
"One crack out" edit
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.
Ian Ross edit
Ian Ross (1968-?), of Métis/Ojibway origin, wrote a satire about Indian self-government with “fareWel” (1996).
Time: 1990s. Place: Indian reserve, Manitoba, Canada.
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During a wake, Melvin warns Nigger, an Indian with a darker skin than most, to forego interfering with children playing with dogs, because one of them might bite him. Irritated by the noise, Nigger nevertheless rushes off. As a result of their friend’s demise, Phyllis worries that death is said to arrive in series of three and wonders who might be next. Her friend, Rachel, discounts the superstition. While rolling cigarettes, they look for paper. Rachel finds a Bible, but Phyllis wrenches it away from her as Nigger enters hobbling with a bloody leg after being bitten. He refuses to heed Phyllis’ advice about needing stitches. Short on cash until his next fareWel (welfare) cheque, Melvin asks Robert, owner of a septic and plumbing service, for a $5 loan in gas money. Instead, Robert proposes that Melvin work for him in servicing septic tanks. Melvin answers that he will think about it. While playing poker with his friend, Teddy, owner of a pawnshop, a distraught Niger complains of a toothache. Teddy proposes that he tie something around his head. He next proceeds to tie a shoelace with a shoe at the other to pull the tooth out but fails to tie it. After failing with pliers, Teddy resorts to punching him on the mouth but gets the wrong tooth out. Although Rachel warns her that her cheque is worthless, Phyllis asks Melvin for money in exchange for it to buy her children new shoes, but he declines. Nigger informs the group that another friend of theirs has died. “That’s two.” Phyllis announces. “There’s gonna be one more now.” After failing with Melvin, she requests the same favor from Teddy, who accepts until he sees the cheque. The next day, the two women, Nigger, and Melvin line up to receive their regular fareWel cheques. Rachel gets closer to Melvin’s blue lips and slaps him for sniffing gas. “That sniffing’s no good,” Niger agrees. “I caught fire the time I tried it.” “That’s ‘cause you’re not supposed to smoke and sniff at the same time,” Melvin retorts. The group wait in line for hours. In desperation, Phyllis unsuccessfully tries to pry open the cashier’s window. Nigger raps the window with a stick, but the stick breaks. No one shows up to hand out the cheques, because the chief of the reserve went to Las Vegas to gamble with their money. When Robert asks Melvin about his job offer, he is still hesitant about accepting it. Fed up with their lot, Teddy proposes in a general meeting that he become the new chief, as a leader of a self-governing body, notably by opening a casino. With no one to oppose him except Robert, dubious at this plan with no interest in the job, Teddy is elected and soon asks Robert for a $5,000 loan to get the new organization off to a good start, with the Pentecostal church used as collateral in view of transforming it into a building in line with traditional Indian beliefs. Robert answers that he will reflect on it. While Phyllis prepares sardine sandwiches for the wake, Rachel notices that the bread is moldy. Phyllis’ response is to pray over the bread so that people do not get sick. At his administrative post, Teddy hires Melvin and Nigger to work for him, but the two goof off from work as soon as he leaves the room. Lacking a truck to pick up slot machines, Teddy proposes that Melvin borrow Robert’s. He accepts, but has a road accident on the way back. He thinks he has killed Nigger, confirming Phyllis’ idea of death in series of three. However, Nigger survived, the accident even fixing his bad tooth, only he lacks a shoe. When rachel asks him whether the collision hurt, he answers: “Nahh. That time I got rolled and thrown in a dumpster and then in the back of a garbage truck hurt worse.” He has compensated for his lost shoe by picking up a woman’s in the dump. Still hoping to receive their cheques, he lines up again with Melvin and Phyllis. At last, the window slides open and three cheques fall out as the result of the old chief’s return from Las Vegas. During the wake, Robert has another complaint: someone has knocked his dog's teeth out. Fed up with the reserve, he intends leaving for Winnipeg. Melvin explains to Nigger that he hit Robert’s dog to avenge Nigger’s injury. He next intends to head for Ottawa to complain to the government about the Indians’ lot but is vague about when. Nigger promises to accompany him.
Rahul Varma edit
Rahul Varma (1952-?) explored the problems of Iranian immigrants in Canada with "Counter offence" (1996).
"Counter offence" edit
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 edit
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).
“In the manner of a 17th century French classical play, carefully respecting the three unities of time, action, and space, ‘A son worth killing’ evokes the kind of tragic situation with political overtones to which French Canadians could relate. The hero, Jean, a young man born of French parents in New France, wishes to seek adventure on the continent instead of remaining on the family farm…Although Jean’s ambitions are the starting point of the play, it is really his authoritarian, unbending, and unfeeling father who is the central character. When Grandmont exposes him as a narrow-minded despot, and not the stern but wise paternal figure he imagines himself to be, he draws a subtle but real parallel with Maurice Duplessis’ authoritarian rule. In his desperate and tragic struggle with his father, Jean becomes symbolic of those who would attempt to break out of a society as closed as Québec was in the forties” (Nardocchio, 1986 pp 31-32). The play reflects a father-son conflict in keeping the land and has been extended to reflect French Canadian's past of self-destruction, acquiescing to one’s own subjection to the English (Moss, 1989 p 340).
"A son worth killing" edit
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.
Marcel Dubé edit
Also of note is Marcel Dubé (1930-?), particularly for "Un simple soldat" (A simple soldier, 1958) and "Florence" (1957, revised 1969).
“The simple soldier” “is a play about a man who cannot find peace with himself. Lack of love and education stacks odds against him that he cannot overcome. He never learns to live with his shortcomings or with those of his family. Joseph Latour is in some ways a post-war Tit-Coq (1948). Both of these heroes found emotional security only in the army and are now haunted by an inescapable loneliness. But where Tit-Coq has at least dreamt of having a warm and close family of his own, Joseph Latour has no long-term desire other than to go to war, and no place where he longs to stay other than on the battlefield. The past (the family) and the present (the city) in his own country only torment him” (Nardocchio, 1986 p 43). “Joseph cannot hold a job, since to settle down would be to accept a routine existence like that of his brother who is an insurance salesman, and he lives by one expedient after another, growing increasingly discontented and contemptuous of an environment he thought he had escaped when he went to war” (Dorsinville, 1972 p 186).
The main character of "Florence" “closely resembles the characters and the atmosphere in The Savage One (1938) by Jean Anouilh...A tragic fatality weighs on Florence as on Thérèse in The Savage One, since these two characters live in a closed world with no exit” (Hamblet, 1972 pp 151-153). The protagonist of "Florence" "comes from a working-class family in Montreal, but she has managed to secure a job as secretary in an advertising agency. She differs from many girls of her social background only in being aware that the vegetative atmosphere of her parents' milieu threatens to paralyze her existence. She wants desperately to free herself both physically and psychologically from this enervating environment. Becoming more and more isolated from her family with whom she is no longer able to communicate, she is unable to control her emotions and must express her repugnance at her father's complaisance and resignation. Florence's damning remarks liberate her father, Gaston, who finally has the courage to face the truth: his life-long virtue of honesty stems only from his inbred fear" (Hamblet, 1971 p 72).
"A simple soldier" edit
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 that she must work overtime along with her boss. He is upset and pressures her in such a way that she can no longer hold off her real feelings. "You don't love me?" he asks. "I love you, but not in the way you do, not in the way I once thought to love you. You'll hate me- you would be right- but I could no longer hide the truth from you. You'll get over it if you are sad by telling yourself that I am not the girl you thought I was, that I didn't deserve your love, that I wasn't she who could have been your wife. The image you had of me- you will never find again. Do you know why? Because I hate it, because I'm learning every day to destroy it." She hands over 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.
Jacques Languirand edit
Another work of note in Canadian drama, "Les grands départs" (The grand departures, 1957) by Jacques Languirand (1931-2018), presents the reverse dilemma of the two main characters in Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" (1952). Instead of waiting for someone who never shows up, Languirand's characters want to leave but are unable to.
“The surprise and somewhat absurd ending implies the departure cycle is about to begin again. It also underlines the symbolism inherent in the play’s treatment of the struggle to leave the nest. It is the healthy, relatively young members of the family who prefer to stay at home, clinging to the traditional values rather than venturing out into the unknown modern world. That a feeble old man must show the way to freedom and adventure points out the basic cowardliness of the others and the stagnant nature of the world he is leaving" (Nardocchio, 1986 pp 39-40).
"The grand departures" edit
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. After Eulalia stops crying, she suddenly appears at the door with a shotgun. Since she does not know how to use it, she hands it over to Margot at the moment it accidently goes off without harming anyone. Still frustrated after all these years, Eulalia reminds Hector of his peculiar behavior towards her when he first courted. The man 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. Hector and Margot are outraged. "For years, you were the adventurer among adventurers," Hector declares. "You were able to live beautiful experiences, I don't deny it, but no one around you was surprised. The others lived the same experiences as you, and maybe even more beautiful ones. It's the desire to astonish that brings you to us. You need to measure the travelled path and we are in your eyes the road-sign that marks your starting point, nothing else." "Hector, as long as your talk will not question on my deep feelings for Eulalia, you can discuss with your nose to the winds," Albert responds. "But you'll find me in your way at the least mention that casts doubt on Eulalia's sensitive soul." 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, violently pushes away Hector and Margot, clutches a suitcase, and leaves the house.
Gratien Gélinas edit
Of some merit in the darkly comic vein is "Bousille et les justes" (Bousille and the just, 1959) by Gratien Gélinas (1909-1999), “a biting satire about a society which hides behind the mask of hypocrisy in order to maintain its images of power” (Lefebvre, 1985 p 60).
“Bousille and the just” is a “mordant study of a very unpleasant French Canadian family” (Johnson, 1995 p 37), “a reminder of the fragility of truth and goodness, a reminder of the ease with which brute force can seemingly overcome simple trust and love. The play is about failure: the failure of the Grenon family who have lost what little love they might have had for one another, the failure of justice because the lawyer knows that Bousille has perjured himself yet he does nothing, the failure of Bousille whose only solution is to kill himself when he realizes how weak he is” (Hare, 1995 p 38). The play “is a bitter and sadly funny commentary on a society that refuses to look squarely at its empty values and hypocritical conduct. Small-town residents retain that lofty opinion of themselves while at the same time exploiting a weaker member of their family” (Nardocchio, 1986 p 36).
As he did in Tit-Coq (1948), “Gélinas is dealing with the little man, the badgered innocent, and once again his characteristic counterpoint of derisive comedy and pathos gives the play its dramatic animation. In the sense that he is satirizing the religiosity of his own people (‘les justes’ in French means both ‘the rightous’ and the ‘proper’), the play is regional. But in the sense that most of mankind pays lip-service to God while hotly courting Mammon, it is universal” (Moore, 1986 pp 36-37).
In "Bousille and the just", “honesty is replaced by the fear of scandal, justice by self-interest, and awareness of reality by blind obedience to Catholic ritual...The play ends with the suicide of Bousille himself, a gesture that has no impact on the other characters who can think of nothing except the scandal the suicide will bring on the family” (Weiss, 1986 p 13). “The real drama, according to some critics, does not begin until the appearance on stage of Colette...It is no doubt true that the action of the play could proceed just as well if Mother Grenon would not, at one point, waste much of her children’s time and ours by refusing to sleep in the hotel without her beads, ‘like a floozie’, but we would miss the very essence of her personality” (Usmiani, 1995 p 40).
"Bousille and the just" edit
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 on the cinema floor. Lacroix is dismayed at hearing this version of the conflict, not part of Bousille's original statement to the police at the inquiry where the second blow was left unmentioned, the omission being due to his nervousness. The lawyer knows his client is now likely to get a jail sentence of perhaps six months, not a complete acquittal as he had hoped. At this junction, Aimé's brother, Henry, decides to take the matter in hand together with his sister's husband, Phil. Alone with Bousille, Henry offers to pay ongoing hospital bills from different diseases, 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 placing 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 on 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.
Michel Tremblay edit
In the more comically satiric vein, "Les belles-soeurs" (The sisters-in-law, 1968) by Michel Tremblay (1942-?) stands out.
“The sisters-in-law" "is a harsh criticism of...the family. Husbands are absent (either working or drunk), children are insolent, grandparents are a burden (the grandmother in the play bites like a dog and is calmed only when hit on the head), and relatives (sisters, aunts, in-laws) are jealous enemies...Of the 15 women present in Germaine’s apartment, only 6 are [relatives], there is only one sister-in-law; in addition, reference is made during the play of 117 other people who are relatives, friends, or acquaintances of the 15 characters...Germaine is being destroyed by forces that neither she nor the other women understand. The oft-repeated complaint of the women- ‘Do I look like someone who has ever won anything?’- is the desperate cry of those whom the consumer society has left behind and who lose even when they win...If men are physically absent from the play, it is because they have no part in the emotional lives of their wives...Caught within the prison of their own kitchens, the women turn their frustrations inwards, against themselves and their neighbors” (Weiss, 1986 pp 30-33).
“The women complain bitterly about the mediocrity and unbearable drudgery of their daily existence. Their stories are both comic and tragic: lost lovers, unwanted pregnancies, coarse and egotistical husbands, meanness, hypocrisy, and general misery. They are filled with anger and a deep sense of frustration, for they must face a world in which their only pastimes are playing bingo and gossiping. At the end of the play, nothing has changed except perhaps the audience, forced to take note of a deprived society where simply surviving is an accomplishment” (Nardocchio, 1986 p 68).
The play “is a horrifying group-portrait of the Rue Fabre’s alienated females...Throughout an evening spent pasting into books...the women bemoan their bondage and powerlessness. To assuage the anxieties of individuation without self-strength, the women compulsively seek refuge in what amounts to an authoritarian sisterhood; and their individual and collective practice of masochism and sadism...gives the play its heartbeat...Far from being the traditional guardians of religious and moral values, happy progenitors of large families, and good-humored housekeepers, they stand revealed as malevolent misfits, consumed with hatred of life and of themselves” (Ripley, 1995 p 313).
"The play was written in 'joual', crude slang characterized by slurred diction, old French words, curses, and anglicisms...the language spoken in Montreal's working-class areas. At the time, the play constituted a counter-hegemonic piece of art and, as such, exposed 'polite' audiences to a realistic view of working-class language and culture for the first time in the venue of the theatre...The gathering of fifteen women in the kitchen of a working-class apartment to glue one million grocery stamps that one of them had won in a contest into booklets is the pretext for the action. The play describes the everyday urban life of francophone working-class women of different ages, the eldest 93 and the youngest about 18. They were seen to be locked into their own fates, with no possibility of escape, some at home, others, the youngest, in menial jobs or 'immoral' occupations such as prostitution" (Martin, 2003 pp 110-119). Speaking in "joual" derives from "cheval"= horse and amounts to speaking in a deliberately primitive and animalistic fashion.
“Michel Tremblay is a major playwright who has achieved international recognition for an original canon of works which treats that great human theme, redemption, allied to a particular capacity to use demotic language in a local setting which is then somehow magically made relevant to the global condition” (Hicks, 2003 p 145).
"The sisters-in-law" edit
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.
Roland Lepage edit
Of note in the dramatic vein is "Le temps d'une vie" (In a lifetime, 1974) by Roland Lepage (1928-?).
"In a lifetime" edit
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.
Carole Fréchette edit
"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" edit
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 edit
"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" edit
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.