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Hood, Hugh.

Don Mills (Ont.), Stoddart, c1984. 254pp, paper, $14.95, ISBN 0-7737-2023-5. (The New Age) Distributed by Stoddart.

Reviewed by Barbara J. Graham

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

There seems to be an instinctive, rooted fear of the dramatic impulse and the scenic art, set into the hearts of Canadians, throbbing between systole and diastole. This is not necessarily a Bad Thing. pp 218-219

Continuing with his series, The New Age/Le nouveau siècle, Hugh Hood uses the already familiar persona of Matthew Goderick to introduce his readers to the Canadian theatrical scene. The peculiar blend of fact and fiction keeps the perceptive reader on his toes and, at the same time, allows Hood to make his own theatrical statements through his fictional character.

Goderich, an observer on the fringe, focuses his attention on the brilliant, erratic career of a rising young star, Adam Sinclair, from his early days at Hart House to critical acclaim in London, to an outrageously funny yet pathetic drunken debacle at, of all places, a Dominion Drama Festival.

There is some movement backwards and forwards in time. As the story opens, Matthew arrives in Stratford on June 4, 1953, with his young bride, to take up residence in Mrs. Roop's boarding house, where they are to live for the first season while she is working on design. The pacing is slow, as Matthew reminisces about the raising of the Festival tent (more essay than story) and focuses on theatrical background, using actual names. Then it moves on to the peculiar ménage à six, which includes two actresses trying to sustain a Lesbian relationship and Adam Sinclair, a friend from the old Toronto neighbourhood, whose homosexual leanings and excessive drinking lead him to bed with the blushing bridegroom. Hood makes it clear that homosexual/lesbian activities were "essential professional equipment."

Ontario readers will participate, especially, in the delight of recognition, as Hood takes his characters through days at the University of Toronto, the Hart House experience, the local landmarks-the table in the front window at Murray's, where Adam Sinclair held court for a côterie of theatrical devotees. The move to the London theatrical scene will give the reader insight into the excitement of the young Canadian artistic community abroad, as Adam Sinclair and Sadie MacNamara (his future wife) become recognized as actors.

The brilliant satirical sequence at Stoverville's Dominion Drama Festival, with Sinclair as adjudicator is memorable. One is reminded of Stephen Leacock.

The novel truly presents a dilemma for the reader, because of the awkward blend of elements, which do not quite come together to make a unified statement. There is the history of the Canadian theatre; there is the satirical account of the author's impression of the theatrical fifties and sixties; there is the series of character types who are joined loosely together by that history. Certainly those familiar with Canadian theatre will enjoy the tantalizing comments Hood makes about real persons in fictional character. Who do the characters really represent? One feels slightly "out" of the "in" jokes that most assuredly abound, but there is satire a-plenty for those who "know."

The Scenic Art is not a novel for everyone. Some will find the pacing slow, the longish passages of Hoodian comment on the theatre too didactic, the sexual passages too explicit, the story line too rambling. Others will devour with relish every detail of theatrical innuendo, and roar with laughter at Hood's great appreciation of the ridiculous in the theatrical world, which also is a part of our history.

Barbara J. Graham, London Board of Education, London, Ont.
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