Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Canadian Theatre and the Tragic Experience of Evil

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Canadian Theatre and the Tragic Experience of Evil

Article excerpt

This essay examines the relevance of the tragic account of evil for Canadian theatre in the shadow of the contemporary "war on terror." It concentrates on two important aspects of the ancient Greek depiction of evil in tragedy: (1) that no agent, human or divine, is either absolutely good or absolutely evil; and (2) that evil, understood as the experience of dread, cannot be exterminated but can, at best, be kept within limits. In other words, the tragic account of evil is neither "melodramatic" nor "eschatological." The essay then discusses three recent Canadian plays that address current moral and geo-political issues: The Adventures of Ali & Ali and the aXes of Evil by Marcus Youssef, Guillermo Verdecchia, and Camyar Chai; Capture Me by Judith Thompson; and Insomnia by Daniel Brooks with Guillermo Verdecchia. Through these works, this essay explores how the experience of evil is currently being depicted and considers the possibilities for a new type of tragic theatre in Canada.

Cet article a pour but d'examiner la pertinence de la representation tragique du mal dans le theatre canadien au regard de la guerre contemporaine contre le terrorisme. Il se concentre sur deux aspects importants de la representation du mal dans le theatre grec antique, soit : (1) qu'aucun agent, humain ou divin, n'est entierement bon ou mauvais et (2) que le << mal, >> c'est-a-dire l'experience de la terreur, ne peut pas etre detruite mais peut, au mieux, etre limitee. En d'autres mots, la representation tragique du mal n'est ni << melodramatique, >> ni << eschatologique. >> L'article, par la suite, examine trois oeuvres canadiennes recentes qui traitent des questions morales et des problemes geopolitiques contemporains, soit : The Adventures of Ali &Ali and the aXes of Evil de Marcus Youssef, Guillermo Verdecchia et Camyar Chai; Capture Me de Judith Thompson; et Insomnia de Daniel Brooks et Guillermo Verdecchia. A l'aide de ces oeuvres, l'article etudie les possibilites d'avoir un nouveau genre de theatre tragique au Canada, aborde la question de la representation contemporaine de l'experience du << mal >>?

It is well understood that the question of evil is one of the central concerns of religion. What is less well understood is the relation between the experience of evil and the history of theatre. (1) In the traditions of Christian and post-Christian thought in the West, the word "evil" has tended to be narrowly defined to designate "sin" (disobedience to God) or extreme human immorality (acts of severe cruelty, sadism, and mass murder). In recent years, there has been an effort to broaden the meaning of the term so that it is not tied exclusively to Christian or post-Christian conceptions in the West. For example, C. Fred Alford argues that "evil," before being a theological or moral category, is primarily a term signifying the "experience of dread"--the experience of wickedness, suffering, disaster, and anxiety in a threatening universe (What Evil Means 3). As such, "evil" does not signify malicious human actions alone, but can also refer to natural disasters, accidents, disease, or anything that causes harm. If we understand evil in this general sense of "dread," then we can say that evil contributed to the birth of theatre in ancient Athens. The annual City Dionysia was both a religious festival in honour of the god Dionysus and a civic occasion in which citizens were required to watch depictions of evil. The tragic plays forced the audience to confront the most repugnant aspects of the human condition. Plague, sickness, murder, incest, cannibalism, parricide, rape, and manifold other atrocities were presented in the tragedies. In this sense, the experience of evil was crucial for the genesis of theatre in the West, particularly tragic theatre.

But what relevance, if any, can the Greek tragic vision of evil have for us today? Is it possible, or even desirable, for a new tragic cult, one founded on the Athenian tragic tradition but with its own insights and rituals, to emerge in contemporary Western democracies? …

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