Timescape: History Plays and Isolation
man, Mr. Nelson, serve as a memorial to people’s progress. The play is an educational
tribute to the triumph and tribulations of the little people. The lesson taught is that
progress is inevitable, and sometimes it leaves people behind. But as long as future
generations can learn about their history and preserve the historic artifacts in the museum,
everything will keep getting better. The next generation will thrive because of the hard
work of previous generations.
In the 1980s, the history play is re-visited on Saskatchewan radio. But the stories
and their treatment are different from those of earlier models designed largely to teach
and inspire. While The Romance of Canada often focus on the triumphs of a Hero’s life,
more recent History plays focus on the downfall of the hero, or the futility of the hero’s
death. Sukanen dies as a figure of scorn, his dream unfulfilled, because no one would
believe in him enough to let him escape to his homeland. Beaupré dies in a freak show.
He wants, even after he dies, to earn money to send home to his impoverished family.
But his earnings never reach them. The power of the drama lies in the tension between
the mythic underpinnings of the story which celebrate the hero and his journey and the
surface reality of destructive, dehumanizing greed that points at the meaninglessness of
In the case of history plays, the playwrights still enjoy the freedom to tell the
stories of fictional characters set before a historical backdrop but this freedom is often
used to tell darker, lonelier stories. Settlers in these plays are still held up as examples of
hard work and sacrifice. However, now the question arises of whether or not such human
sacrifices are worth the social gain. Deceived or deluded settlers press west in search of
their utopian dreams and are disappointed. The First Step’s Frank Dobson cannot grow