A collective creation by Maggie Huculak, Duncan Ollerenshaw, Rick Roberts, Richard Rose, and Maria Vacratsis
CASP is pleased to be able to reproduce two versions of the play as it took shape; interested readers will be able to compare the two versions and examine the process involved in shaping a collective creation.
Dramaturge and former Artistic Director of Necessary Angel Theatre, Richard Rose has made a reputation for tweaking, revising, and adapting so called classical works in the name of artistic invention and theatrical inventiveness. Critical appreciation of Rose's work in the theatre takes note of his ability to "[crack] open the tough plays of British writer Howard Barker [himself a well-known adaptor of a major Shakespearean play, Seven Lears ]. He takes lesser Shakespeare works like The Two Gentlemen of Verona and fiddles with context to offer new insights" (Jon Kaplan. "Looking for Richard." Now On Stage Feb. 15-21, 2001). Also well-known for his work in theatrical collectives, Rose has extensive experience at the Shakespearean Stratford Festival of Canada, having directed Stratford's Young Company for three seasons running in the mid 90s.
Constrained by budgetary limitations produced by state inattention to the arts in Canada, Rose notes how "We are caught between the American form of theatre, where you put all your money in one basket and go to Broadway, with the careerism that that brings . and the European model with a company of actors who work together for an extended period of time" (Kate Taylor. "A necessary angel for Canadian theatre." Globe and Mail 30 Nov. 1996: C14). Further, Rose has directed Tamara, an innovative environmental theatre event written by John Krizanc and widely understood to be the first fully interactive drama produced.
Hysterica is part of a long-term fixation Rose has had with King Lear––in 1995 he produced a version of King Lear at Necessary Angel Theatre Company with Janet Wright in the title role and in the following year he directed the Canadian premiere of Howard Barker's Seven Lears , winner of a Dora Mavor Award for best director. As a collective work/interpretation that yet again rewrites the gender dynamics of King Lear, Hysterica rewrites the Lear figure as a modern-day Greek matriarch (and immigrant to Canada). Mama Leda, who heads a major corporation that she attempts to divest (save for 10%) to her two sons. As in Lear's plaintive question to his daughters regarding which of them loves him most, the 10% holdback suggests a family dynamic that is troubled by mistrust and a parent looking for redemption from her children.
Issues of Canadian identity circulate throughout the play, especially in terms of the relationship between the immigrant mother and her two first-generation sons. The nasty struggle that erupts between the sons eventually drives the mother mad and destroys the family. The play thus provides a sophisticated commentary on immigrant and inter-generational cultures in a Canadian context, while transposing the monarchic context of King Lear to the corporate context of contemporary Canada. Maria Vacratsis, the actor who played Mama Leda in the first Toronto production, drew on her own roots coming from a Greek immigrant family to Windsor, Ontario as part of her characterization. The complex relations to one's personal history involving the avowal and disavowal of one's difference from mainstream Canadian culture that are part of Leda's and her sons characterizations reflect on a broad range of issues that have particular resonance in a Canadian multicultural context.
The interweaving of personal familial issues with larger ideological problems typify Rose's work and make for a highly textured theatrical experience. Rose has stated that the play "became not so much about madness or hysteria but how one gets there" and "what happens when a family mistakes loving for having" (Robert Crew. "Director at home with the king of tragedy." The Toronto Star. Jan. 2, 2000: C7). Hysterica was four years in the making (an early workshop version took place at the World Stage Festival in 1996) and "began with improvisations [that] evolved into each actor writing the scenes in which they dominate" (Mira Friedlander. "Director's love affair with Lear." National Post. Jan. 8, 2000: E5, E9). Rose served as "more of an outside script observer" (ibid.) with the right to make final decisions about the play's content and direction.
The consensual model Rose and his co-creators envisage for theatrical creation echoes, however distantly, Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre companies in which collaboration took place: "nearly half of the plays written for public theatres during the early modern period were products of joint authorship" (Oxford Companion to Shakespeare 80). Collaborative techniques deployed in relation to issues of immigrant culture and of addressing difference denote a remarkable form of theatrical energy in which Shakespearean adaptation is aligned with a Canadian context to provide new insights into the human condition.
CASP gratefully acknowledges the authors' permission to publish this play to its website.