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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: The Dramatic Legacy of Dorothy Davis and Violet Walters

A Cup of Tea
There is a readership for Muriel Gold's book on two theatre ladies
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

On every second page of Muriel Gold's book about The Montreal Children's Theatre there is a name I recognize (indeed names most people who go to theatre in English here would recognize). They're the name of thousands of alums from this company, all students of Dorothy Davis and Violette Walters - each working one of them the ladies' living legacy. You don't need to read Gold's book to understand the importance of this institution; the roll call from the place would do. So what else does Gold offer to draw readers in? 

For the rest of us? There is simply too much and not near enough.

For historians, this is an exhaustive description of how the school was run, exactly what was taught (including dozens of - unnecessary? - pages of poems, recitations and playlets) and the exercises that may or may not have made actors as different as Bill Shatner and Carl Marotte into stars.

For those who went to the school - the vast leagues - this is a lovely memorial; a momento mori of goofy exercises, dated doggerel, childish backstage excitement and onstage decorum, of cautious and kind-hearted reviews of the kiddy shows (even from the dailies). Names of graduates are reeled off - if you went there you're probably in the book.


For the rest of us? There is simply too much and not near enough. The interviews of alums are single-level and, for the most part, neither colourful nor instructive. The long descriptions of what was taught. and how, all seem silly, old-fashioned and, worse, artistically retarded. At the beginning of the company the two ladies were pioneers. By the end they appear to be simply two old birds - straight out of Arsenic and Old Lace - perpetuating a form of acting and presentation that is, simply, hackwork. They both sluff off more interesting approaches to teaching theatre - like creative dramatics - to propose good posture and the twaddle of politesse and grand diction as viable drama.

Sadly, Gold's book only serves to suspend the institution (ongoing) and the said ladies in amber. I don't think that's what she set out to do and I'm not entirely sure that is a true portrait of these two giants nor a just tribute to what they accomplished.

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