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Establishing Our Boundaries: English-Canadian Theatre Criticism

james hörner

if there is a book to make a reviewer nervous it is this one. Establishing Our Boundaries is an in depth look at the nature of english-canadian theatre criticism, critics themselves, and the state of national theatre.

book cover any reader thinking that a book on theatre criticism must be dry and not even fit enough for insomniacs should change their perceptions; this is a text which provides a social history of canada from a perspective rarely seen, as well as delves into the colourful characters, known as critics, who nightly haunt theatres and throw their weighty opinions around.

we learn that in the early days of english-canadian theatre criticism there was not a consciousness of it being particularly national in nature. in fact it appears early criticism (if it can be called that) was more concerned with 'puffery' than anything. puffery is defined in the book as "essentially favourable press releases supplied to the newspapers by the theatre managers themselves." as the book progresses, chronologically, one can witness the birth of an awareness about the supposed role the theatre should play in canada.

what we see is the growth of criticism which comments upon itself as having the obligation to help foster and provoke growth in national theatre. the critics also see a growing need for supporting local and experimental theatre.

one thing that is extremely apparent is the varying styles or postures of reviewers. some are positive and friendly and take a nurturing stance towards theatre in order to encourage it to grow, while others are critical to the point of viciousness in order to force theatre to develop. although trying to do the same thing, these varying methods provide insight into the critics mind and really make a reader conscious of any future reviews they will read. with the critics, and excerpts from many of their reviews, opened up for examination one truly gets an understanding of the mechanics behind criticism.

Establishing Our Boundaries covers wide ground, from 1826 to briefly discussing recent fiascoes with Garth Drabinsky and Livent, as well as considering the future of theatre criticism. over the course of around 400 pages (many short essays placed in chronological order) one really sees the specific functions theatre has served through canadian history, and gives us appreciation for the cultural institution of theatre. if anything, it makes you want to attend more plays.

i have undoubtedly left many of the important social and political issues brought up in Establishing Our Boundaries on the wayside with this review, but i can assure that as someone with little understanding or appreciation of theatre i greatly enjoyed this book. the only suggestion i would have for readers not familiar with many of the names brought up would be to read the introduction last - it provides a nice cap for a well-woven edition.

published by university of toronto press
ISBN 0-8020-4115-9

james hörner edits canadian content.

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