social pressures

On the Home Front

Read a great article in The Globe And Mail about a mixed race production of Tomson Highway's The Rez Sisters. Ken Glass, with the Factory Theatre in Toronto, had what some may consider politically or socially taboo; he had an open casting call (eg not calling specifically for aboriginal artists) to cast this play about aboriginal women on the reserve. I, for one, applaud the choice. I have always felt that the tendency to stick to racial descriptions of characters limits the potential of productions and exploration of the themes in the play. Certainly these women are set in a culturally specific place, and their language is culturally specific...but not any more so that Chekov's sisters are so.

Happily, the article reports that the playwright is more than pleased with this development. I have loved these characters from the first time I read this play, the beautifully funny, honest and open way these women take care of one another is moving, and tells us something about the human spirit in the face of adversity.

I wish I could be in Toronto to see it!

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Sophocles - Antigone

This has been a favourite play of mine for a very long time. The clash of forces between the ruler (master) and citizen (slave), father figure and daughter, law and reason is very vivid, and ignites my imagination. Antigone does what she thinks is right, and sticks by this choice...then cannot live in a world where she is condemned to death for this. Her suicide seems initially like she is cheating, however she has no other choice; this way she dies at her own hand and not that of her oppressor.

Interestingly, this play, unlike many Greek Tragedies, has a single action, but many side-actions. I hesitate to call them sub-plots, for they are still along the initial line of Antigone's plight, but the love story, suicide, etc almost tend toward our more modern understanding of plot.

image: Woman Struggling to Break Free of Contentment - Naznin Virji-Babul

Henrik Ibsen - An Enemy of the People

As with seemingly all Ibsen plays, this one begins with a fairly pedestrian, middle-class problem and situation. It then delves into a land of opposing ideologies, tearing away at that middle-class comfort and challenging the ideas that drove society in Ibsen's time. Reading this play, with its argument for doing the right thing, regardless of the personal impact, to ensure the greater good, really highlighted to me how unfortunately little has changed with respect to political and business dealings. People in power continue to be influenced by people with money, and vice versa...and Ibsen's greatest argument; that the "liberal majority" are comfortable and stuck in their ways, so will never actually give up their comforts for that which they state they feel is still as resonant today as it was more than 100 years ago.

Ibsen's characters here are a colourful embodiment of the types they symbolize, and come across with full three-dimensional life despite coming across on paper as a mere archetype; the crooked self-interested politician, the liberal journalist, the gutsy young student.

The only thing that I don't feel was fully in line was the ending (a problem I have with many other of Ibsen's plays). I often feel like he rallies against society, but stops just shy of full refusal to comply. Clearly this was a sign of the times; as they stand, Ibsen's plays caused riots when they were first produced, so perhaps he didn't have much choice. Although certainly Ibsen's famous Hedda does take the final step to leave her captivity.

image: Ian McKellen and Charlotte Cornwell

Neil LaBute - fat pig

What awful people. The characters in this play are horrible, shallow, self-centered and judgemental. With the exception of Helen, who comes across as really genuine, and honestly seeking connection with someone. Jeannie and Carter specifically call to mind those terrible, juvenile, people we all have encountered at some point in our lives; so insecure in themselves that they ridicule others. And though we have some hope for Tom's ability to connect with Helen, looking beyond physical and social "rules" eventually even he fails.

I was really angry at the end of this play; at Tom for doing what he does. At Helen for sitting there taking it.

But grateful to LaBute for facing the subject. I only wish he had managed to not have his character succumb; I was left feeling hopeless for our consumer culture, that we will never break free from these false idols and obsessions with meeting certain ideals.