TESTIFYIN': CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN CANADIAN DRAMA, VOLUME II edited by Djanet Sears (Playwrights Canada Press), 604 pages, $55 paper. Rating: NNNN
STAGING COYOTE'S DREAM: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FIRST NATIONS DRAMA IN ENGLISH edited by Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles (Playwrights Canada Press), 459 pages, $40 paper. Rating: NNNN
People often forget that the best plays can be equally powerful as literature. Odds are good that you discovered Shakespeare on the page as well as the stage. These recent anthologies make good reading as well as strong playing. Collections of material not widely available, they're also records of a number of scripts that have played and sometimes premiered in Toronto.
The second volume of Testifyin', a collection of nine African-Canadian plays gathered by Djanet Sears, demonstrates that a sense of celebration and comedy filters through even the most serious dramas.
Lorena Gale's Angélique covers a little-known aspect of Quebec history, while Andrew Moodie's A Common Man's Guide To Loving Women deals with gender politics. Naila belvett and debbie young's yagayah blends an African folktale and the friendship of two Caribbean girls separated when one moves to Canada. George Elroy Boyd's Consecrated Ground (to be staged by Obsidian next spring) puts a human face on Halifax's Africville tragedy.
The gem of the book is Sears's The Adventures Of A Black Girl In Search Of God, currently on at Harbourfront Centre and one of the best plays of the past decade. It's also available as a single volume (Playwrights Canada Press, $16.95 paper).
The material in Staging Coyote's Dream is less familiar, in part because editors Monique Mojica and Ric Knowles draw on authors from the States as well as Canada. Toronto readers might recall seeing an early Tomson Highway work, the solo Aria (Highway accompanied Makka Kleist in the first production), and Mojica's sometimes funny, sometimes moving survey of white colonization and the power of native women, Princess Pocahontas And The Blue Spots.
Among the other highlights are Job's Wife, Or The Delivery Of Grace, a piece by Native Earth artistic director Yvette Nolan about the confrontation between a troubled Roman Catholic pregnant with her native partner's child and an aboriginal incarnation of God, and Spiderwoman Theatre's Reverb-ber-ber-rations.
Though Spiderwoman is a New York-based company, it's composed of a triumvirate of sisters (Lisa Mayo, Gloria Miguel and Muriel Miguel) who've written, performed and directed here in Toronto.