ANTON WAGNER and RICHARD PLANT, editors, Canada's Lost Plays, Vol. 1: The Nineteenth Century. Toronto: CTR Publications, 1978.

ANTON WAGNER, editor, Canada's Lost Plays, Vol. 2: Women Pioneers. Toronto: CTR Publications, 1979.

ANTON WAGNER, editor, Canada's Lost Plays, Vol. 3: The Developing Mosaic: English-Canadian Drama to Mid-Century. Toronto: CTR Publications, 1980.

ANTON WAGNER, editor, Canada's Lost Plays, Vol 4: Colonial Quebec: French-Canadian Drama, 1606 to 1966. Toronto: CTR Publications, 1982.

Walter J. Meserve

Any attempt to make a people aware of their heritage may be construed as an act of absolute idealism. Such an observation is particularly true when applied to a nation's theatre history because theatre is a momentary art. It is always now, an experience of a moment in time, when the artistry of the playwright and the art of the actors fuse in such a way as to create pleasure and satisfaction for an audience. Any play, to be successful in any theatre, must appeal to an audience. It need not do more. The best plays, of course, maintain their appeal in theatres, entrancing audiences of different cultures and at different times in history. Reading audiences, as well, may enjoy these plays. But, relatively speaking, there are few such plays. People change; their tastes change; their habits change; and the theatre, a social institution, must change to meet the needs and demands of a society which at any point in history is both reflected in the entertainments it tolerates or supports and shaped by these theatrical events. Such is the nature of man; such is the nature of theatre.

The plays collected in these first four volumes of Canada's Lost Plays show the reader some of the best and / or most successful plays written by Canadians from the beginnings of entertainment in Colonial Canada to the modern period. The editor of these volumes, Anton Wagner - with the help of Richard Plant on volume one - has undertaken a momentous task with apparent zeal, an undaunted belief in Canadian nationalism and a good sense of the scholarship required. Although presumably influenced in his initial endeavors by the twenty-one volumes of America's Lost Plays, Wagner takes a different approach. The volumes of America's Lost Plays are organized in terms of the 'lost' or previously unavailable and unpublished plays by eighteenth and nineteenth century playwrights. Introductions in these volumes are brief but adequate and directed specifically to the dramatist, his canon and the play or plays reproduced.

Wagner has a broader thesis to argue. Essentially, he appears to be creating a history of drama in Canada and illustrating it with the plays that best represent the chronological development of Canadian drama. Each of the four published volumes, for example, has a distinct approach: nineteenth-century English-Canadian drama, women dramatists of Canada, English-Canadian drama from World War I to mid-century, and three hundred and fifty years of French-Canadian drama. All of the collected plays have been previously published although English translations have been newly provided for French-Canadian plays. It is, then, not the unavailability of the plays that is a factor for the volume - although time has obscured the publications of the pre-modern plays - but the careful selection of plays that represent the concept behind each volume. In fact, the plays are not really 'lost' plays but rather plays that deserve to be remembered as part of the Canadian theatre heritage, plays which at one time have reflected a society's entertainment interests. Some of the plays, however, are quite contemporary. Volume Two, for example, Women Pioneers, includes six plays - four from the nineteenth century plus Gwen Ringwood's poetic display of emotion entitled Pasque Flower, 1939, and Teach Me How to Cry, 1955, by Patricia Joudry, a perceptive play about human relationships with some truly touching moments. A play written in 1966 appears in Volume Four, and all of the plays in Volume Three date from 1923. It is difficult to understand the inclusion of some of these modern plays in a collection of 'lost' plays, but once accepted, the concept behind each volume clarifies the play selection.

Although the reprinting of the plays is ostensibly the reason for the series, the introductory essays to the volumes are surely of equal value to theatre historians and interested readers. Each essay is carefully written, well illustrated and provides a theatrical and critical background for the reading of the plays. The scholarship is well footnoted, and bibliographies are adequate. Taken together these essays and the briefer introductions to individual plays form an interpretive study of English-Canadian and French-Canadian drama. Oddly enough, the introduction to the six plays representing the nineteenth century (volume one) is the shortest, although the material included is sharply expressed and central to the history of drama in Canada. The activity at the well-known Theatre Royal in Montreal, for example, should have produced a greater amount of material worthy of comment, and the plays included, such as The Female Consistory of Brockville, 1856, by Caroli Candidus or Dolorsolatio, 1865, a local political burlesque by Sam Scribble, would be better understood with some critical commentary. Unfortunately, this is the single volume in the series which lacks introductions to individual plays. Evidently, the editors learned something after preparing this initial volume, and the added essays are a distinct advantage of the later volumes.

One observation from the point of view of an historian of American drama relates to a comparison of Canadian and American drama, particularly during the nineteenth century, and to the overlapping of what have become Canadian and American interests. Marc Lescarbot's The Theatre of Neptune in New France, 1606, for example, has been discussed or noted by most American historians and is generally claimed as one beginning for drama in greater America. Wagner provides an excellent commentary on this French masque in his general introductory essay to Volume Four as well as in his enlightening introduction to the play in which he also traces recent events relating to the play. But he never acknowledges previous studies of the play by Americans. In fact, there are very few references in any of these essays to American sources as distinct from Canadian sources. This omission of relevant scholarship appears shortsighted on the part of the researcher and editor. From early nineteenth century on, theatre troupes frequently crossed the borders, and a number of dramatists worked for theatres on both sides. During the nineteenth century in particular the kind of melodrama or burlesque written in Toronto or Boston varied rather little in general appearance although characters and issues remained distinct. Clearly, some of the same problems related to the appreciation of literature and theatre existed in both Canada and America. The histories of both dramas are more alike than not, and Wagner's ambitious and scholarly work begins to fill an obvious gap in our knowledge, making a memorable and significant contribution to the history of drama in North America.

One can only applaud the appearance of these four volumes of Canadian drama and look forward to more volumes as years pass. Now Canadian drama can be read and understood as it begins to assert an independence, an individuality in which the particular qualities of this drama must bring distinction. An English critic, Laurence Kitchen, wrote a book entitled Mid-Century Drama some thirty odd years ago and discussed the contributions of America under the heading of 'The Potent Intruder.' Clearly, there will soon be other such intruders.

Walter J. Meserve

Indiana University