New Book: “Two Plays—Couvade & A Pleasant Career”

book.81845231897Peepal Tree Press recently published a new paperback edition of Michael Gilkes’ Two Plays: Couvade & A Pleasant Career (2014). Both these plays focus closely and dramatically on the pressures on the creative imagination of the writer and artist in the Caribbean.

Descriptions: This new revised and updated version of “Couvade,” which was first performed in Guyana in 1972 and published in 1974, references the Amerindian ritual where the man takes to his bed and “suffers” some equivalent to the pangs of childbirth whilst his female partner is in actual labour. On one realistic but symbolic level, Lionel’s wife Pat is in the latest stages of her pregnancy, whilst in her view her artist husband has become obsessed with the Amerindian-themed painting he is working on, to the detriment of his concern for her. At another ritual level in the drama, apparent only to Lionel in his dreams, a shaman enacts a collective ritual of offering and celebration of the gods. As Wilson Harris, who wrote the introduction to the second publication of the play (“a play I much admire”) observes, Lionel appears overwhelmed by forces from the past, a confrontation with a broken heritage that the play suggests the Caribbean artist must make.

“A Pleasant Career” is based on the biography of the pioneering and conflicted Guyanese novelist, Edgar Mittelholzer, a career that begins in the ludicrous ambition in the 1930s to be an internationally known writer in a society that has no conception of the artist or writer as other than something that comes from overseas. The play explores Mittelholzer’s early negotiations of the race and class hierarchies of colour in British Guiana, his own position as the “swarthy” boy in a predominantly white family, and his resolute determination to beat down the doors of the London publishing world. But the play not only explores Mittelholzer’s confrontation with the barriers without (including the need to emigrate to Britain to further his writing career), but some of the demons within, held in creative balance in his earlier years, but later setting him onto the path of a fiery suicide. Dramatic incident and acute psychological speculation into Mittelholzer’s psyche make this a richly rewarding play.

Michael Gilkes was born in Guyana in 1933 and left in 1961, but has never strayed far from Guyana and the Caribbean. He is one of the region’s foremost literary critics and playwrights, as well as an actor, director, film-maker and university lecturer.

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