Play compilation displays range and depth

Joan Sullivan
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These six plays all debuted between 2003 and 2013, but the subjects, periods and tone vary, to say the least — yet editor Denyse Lynde feels they have a common core.

The Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Plays: Vol. 2
Edited by Denyse Lynde
Breakwater Books  2014
$19.95  296 pages

“It is the isolation of this terrible, beautiful place, a remote rock set in the Atlantic, that defines its culture, politics, economics, and history,” she writes in her Introduction. “The island and its landscape are central to this collection of contemporary plays from Newfoundland artists; set in the past or present, the plays are each as complex as Newfoundland itself. It is ultimately an island of the mind.”

It may seem less obvious that playwrights would be just as influenced by landscape as, say, painters, but after all, it’s not counterintuitive. Environment is culture.

Within those parameters, how representational are they of the current Newfoundland and Labrador theatre scene? Besides their production dates, they share some elements and themes. They are generally conventional (this is not a criticism), and the characters, settings and crises are what they are. Which is not to say they don’t represent and embody much more than they are.

“Our Eliza,” by Megan Coles (she and Benedict Pittman are the youngest writers here) is a three-character drama with an unconventional timeline moving between 1965 and 2012. Eliza is the daughter of Loomis and is married to Hank, and as the scenes don’t follow chronologically she can be 64 in one and 13 the next, with the other characters age-adjusting accordingly. This allows a focus on relationships, their winnowing and blossoming, which is also looped by incident, not a clock

It is anchored by Eliza’s housework, which is always her lot, especially scrubbing.

Eliza; Daddy, I don’t want to go to Benny’s wedding.

Loomis: Go on. What are you talking about? Benny’s your cousin.

Eliza: I don’t feel like all the noise ad the people. I think I has a reaction to crowds.

Loomis: Reaction to crowds? My Jesus! Who do you take after? I tell ya, Eliza, it’s stuff like that gives me queer thoughts.

Eliza: But, Daddy, I won’t enjoy myself. It’s too hot over to the church basement. I can’t stand it.

Loomis: Now, Eliza, your aunt Beat was your mother’s only sister. You’re going to that wedding regardless of any reaction you may have to the noise, crowds, church basement, or whatever. Do you hear me?

Eliza: Yes Daddy.

Incidentally, this is one of the few pieces I didn’t see and what a loss not to hear that exchange between Renee Hackett as Eliza and Greg Malone as Loomis.

“The Fights” and “Lead Me Home” are historically based dramas. “Lead Me Home” is based on the Second World War tragic sinking of the Caribou, a well-known story that Kevin Major capably animates, as well as deftly including the Captain of

U-Boat 69, Ulrich Graf.

Pittman’s “The Fights,” the longest script here, explores the lesser known but intriguing involvement of Newfoundland-born bare knuckles fighters in the American sport just after the U.S. Civil War. The story is a little good brother/bad brother, but the staging when I saw it was kinetic and exciting.

“Three Dogs Barking,” by Frank Barry, is a modern, taut, psychological thriller. It’s been restaged twice since its 2003 debut, including a production that switched one character from male to female. They are interesting personalities — brutal cop, wealthy and world-naive doctor, violent sleveen — who may not be what they seem. Or, and this might be even more interesting, just may be.

Lois Brown’s “Sex, The Rules of” is as unsettled as its title. What seems to be a young professional couple and older husband and wife, who may or may not be involved or related, gets tangled from the start. The characters play multiple roles, they share names, they manipulate props, not just shifting them for blocking, but binding them around each other. It also begins with an unusual note: “Parentheses in dialogue are used to indicate something that can either be thought or said, at the discretion of the director and actors.”

That’s a very specific stage note and indicative of the ambiance.

“Sweet Pickle,” Ruth Lawrence’s two-hander, later adapted into a short film, is a grocery shopping duet, in verse.

Julia: We ate pink tomatoes in plastic baskets, wrapped in Cellophane

Now there’s beefstack, plum, and hothouse, the pickings are insane

Early cascade, green, ripened on the wine

Fully plump or lean, the pleasure’s always mine.

Stockboy: No squeezing the tomatoes!

I like the range here, and the calibre. Relatively few Newfoundland and Labrador theatre scripts get published. Not only does this mean they are not eligible for awards, but they may well be lost. This volume continues Breakwater’s vital curatorial/custodial role of Newfoundland print culture.

Lovely cover, too, with artwork from Anne Meredith Barry.

Joan Sullivan is a St. John’s-based

journalist, author and editor of

 The Newfoundland Quarterly.

Her column returns Aug. 23.

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador theatre

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Atlantic, U.S. CellophaneNow

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