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Book Reviews

Making Waves: Three Radio Plays

by Emil Sher

Playwright Emil Sher is creating a new genre of drama with his radio morality-plays that explore ethical choices lurking behind the headlines of the daily news. He writes within the rich Canadian tradition of the documentary, “the creative treatment of actuality” as NFB founder John Grierson once defined it, while exploring the complex moral questions contained in the original news stories he freely adapts. The result is a fascinating hybrid: highly charged emotional dramas, primers on topical issues, and modern parables.

In three plays that illustrate the complexity and the ambiguity of the original events, Sher presents finely drawn characters struggling through tough choices under extreme circumstances. He manages this without sensationalism or undue exploitation.

In Mourning Dove, Sher explores the Robert Latimer story, the Saskatchewan farmer who was found guilty of murdering his severely handicapped daughter. Denial Is a River delves into Rochelle Pitman’s landmark legal action against the Red Cross, her local hospital, and her family doctor following her husband’s death from a tainted blood transfusion. In Past Imperfect, Sher tackles the Jean-Louis Roux affair. Shortly after being named Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec in 1996, evidence surfaced about Roux’s youthful brush with Nazism, forcing him to resign amid an acrimonious media storm. But all the names and facts are altered since this is drama, not current events.

Sher presents moral choices without moralizing, without taking sides and without opting for easy solutions. There are no noble victors, no monochromatic villains here, just individuals confronting the messy dilemmas that bounce back at them as a result of choices they once made. Sher’s plays are wonderfully economic clarifications of the nuances that headlines blur: Farmer kills handicapped daughter. Doctor hides truth from patient. Lieutenant-Governor once wore swastika.

Mourning Dove – which was also included in Peter Gzowski’s The Morningside Years – and Denial Is a River were originally aired in 1996 on CBC’s Morningside. Past Imperfect was aired on Sunday Showcase on CBC Radio last December.