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Modern Theatre in Context: A Critical Timeline

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A Scene from 'Fortune and Men's Eyes', 1967

John Herbert's Fortune and Men's Eyes, considered Canada's first "gay play," opens at the Actor's Playhouse in New York. Although it had been work-shopped at the Stratford Festival, it was considered to be unsuitable for Stratford audiences. The first professional Canadian production of the play will only take place eight years later at Toronto's Phoenix Theatre.

A near riot is provoked by the performance of Robert Gurik's strongly Separatist political fable, Le Pendu, at the Dominion Drama Festival. Directed by Roland Laroche, it wins prizes for best production and best set (by Renée Noiseux). The conceit of the play comes from a popular superstition about the noose of a hanged man bringing luck. In it the father of a family of beggars persuades his blind son, Yonel, to hang himself so that pieces of the rope can be sold as talismans to make them wealthy. Instead of dying, Yonel regains his sight and – rejecting his father – he distributes cuttings of the rope for free among the poor and cripples, leading them to rise up against their exploiters. The rope all too clearly represents revolution against the father (both English Canada and the past) from whom the enslaved son liberates himself almost effortlessly.

After the Festival it is restaged at Théâtre de l'Égrégore with Claude Préfontaine as Yonel; and Gurik follows up with Hamlet, Prince du Québec, produced in 1968 by Théâtre de L'Escale. Commenting allegorically and satirically on contemporary Quebec politics, this becomes Gurik's most successful play. In addition to other political satires, such as his 1963 Le Chant du poète, Gurik has experimented with science fiction (Api 2967, 1966, Théâtre de la Mandragore) and the surreal (Le Procès de Jean-Baptiste M., 1972, Théâtre du Nouveau Monde).

Chief Dan George reads "A Lament for Confederation" at a Centennial Birthday Party at Empire Stadium in Vancouver: " the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea." This same speech is printed in November in the Playhouse Theatre Company's program for George Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, which stars Dan George himself and Frances Hyland.

By far Ryga's most important play, this combined documentary fact – a Vancouver news report of a young Indian girl's murder in a slum rooming house – with dreamlike surrealism to form a powerful and graphic indictment of racialism and exploitation that up to then Canada had largely ignored. Commissioned by Malcolm Black, and directed by George Bloomfield it unambiguously marked the Vancouver Playhouse's emergence as a leading champion of new Canadian drama. Remounted by David Gardner for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, where the audience included not only the Prime Minister, but also the Ministers of Justice and Indian Affairs (both of whom announced themselves committed to change), it was hailed by reviewers with the CBC treating it "not as a play, but more as an act of communion in which our own participation is inescapable." Produced not only by major regional theatres throughout Canada, but also in London, Washington, and subsequently throughout North Africa, as well as winning the award for best new production at the 1973 Edinburgh Festival, it was this play that put Canada on the map of world theatre.