Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Urban Entanglements in Three African Canadian Plays: Lorena Gale's Angelique, George Boyd's Consecrated Ground, and Andrew Moodie's Riot

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

Urban Entanglements in Three African Canadian Plays: Lorena Gale's Angelique, George Boyd's Consecrated Ground, and Andrew Moodie's Riot

Article excerpt

At the end of Andrew Moodie's play, Riot, the character Alex recalls his childhood pride in his Canadian identity, a memory that becomes a lament for his now-lost encapsulation of the nation. Alex explains that he would imagine being able to see right across the country from his own backyard in Ottawa: "I would flop on my stomach and grab fistfuls of grass and I would hug Canada. And you know what ... if you stay really really really still, after a while, it almost feels like Canada is hugging you back. And I miss that feeling. I really do" (95). The events that take place in Riot challenge Alex's patriotic relationship with Canada, while Lorena Gale's Angelique and George Boyd's Consecrated Ground also question conventional assumptions that Canada guards the civil rights of all its citizens. The three plays rehearse moments of racism regarding the African Canadian diaspora. The existence of discrepancies between 'official Canadian history and other accounts of past events does not surprise Rinaldo Walcott, who argues that "Canadian state institutions and official narratives [continue] to render blackness outside, while simultaneously attempting to contain blackness through discourses of Canadian benevolence. Thus blackness in Canada is situated on a continuum of invisible to hyper-visible" ("'Tough'" 39). This paper examines the in/visibility and hyper-visibility of blackness in three plays that are set in a past which connects directly to contemporary politics: Angelique takes place in 1734 Montreal and the present, Consecrated Ground is set in Nova Scotia's Africville in 1965, and Riot looks back to Toronto in 1992.

Yet rather than just documenting points on a visibility continuum, the plays also raise the prospect of establishing alternative--albeit metaphoric--definitions of 'belonging.' They try to redress some form of segregation of a black subject and/or community from the larger urban whole, and, by extrapolation, from the nation itself. In doing so, they stage a compromised form of what Avtar Brah calls "diaspora space." (2) For Brah, diaspora space is characterised by an "entanglement of genealogies of dispersion with those of 'staying put'" (16). She explains that "[d]iaspora space is the point at which boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, of belonging and otherness, of 'us' and 'them', are contested" (208-9). The nature of this entangled spatiality between diasporic communities and the existing populations is such that "[t]he diaspora space is the site where the native is as much a diasporian as the diasporian is the native" (Brah 209, emphasis in original). One might anticipate that Brah's argument would work very well in Canada, where some African Canadian communities have been 'entangled' in and with the larger Canadian nation for over two hundred years (even though some characters in Riot are first generation). The plays suggest, however, that a spatial 'entanglement' is much less easily achieved than one might expect: the productive entanglement that Brah describes is made all the more difficult because the visibility continuum tends to override entanglement in favour of almost segregationist invisibility and/or hyper-visibility. By exploring a compromised form of diaspora space as a means of locating African Canadian subjects, the plays provide an abstract alternative to 'belonging' in both the wider community and the nation.

Given the potential for a discussion of the entanglements of diaspora space to produce an enormous spatial framework, I have limited my investigation of intertwined spaces to the scope provided by the plays' settings: all three take place in urban locations. They actively explore perceptions of 'the city' as spatial. The plays not only reconstruct African Canadian subjectivity against an official history that regularly fails to acknowledge the contribution of African Canadians, they also perform an authoritarian urban place which appears to conspire against the characters to foster displacement rather than entanglement. …

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