Critical Overview

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Pollock's early plays quite clearly were focused on making a comment about society, earning her the label of social playwright "With Blood Relations people who don't like social comment plays seem to think I've 'moved' considerably and I'm finally beginning to concentrate on character, that I've learned a few character traits and maybe they can expect some 'better' work from me," Pollock once said in an interview in The Work' Conversations with English-Canadian Playwrights.

Although not well-known in the U.S., Pollock has an impressive reputation in her native Canada. Jerry Wasserman of the University of Toronto Quarterly, labels her one of the "two finest living [Canadian] playwrights." Richard Paul Knowles seemed in agreement when he wrote in Atlantic Provinces Book Review that "Sharon Pollock is one of only a handful of playwrights in Canada who have put together a solid and developing body of work over a number of active years in the theatre, and of that handful she is one of the best."

Some critics have been disappointed in what they perceive as a lack of clear feminist focus in Blood Relations. According to S. R. Gilbert, the play "does not adequately explore issues of women in Victorian (or modern) society."

Pollock commented on how male reviewers failed to see any connection with feminism in this work, with some seeing the play as a mystery play while others as perhaps a psychological study of a woman. "It's only women who see it making a statement about women today,'' the playwright noted.

Pollock's claim that Blood Relations does have a feminist message has been echoed by many women critics "In many ways the play epitomizes the strengths and originality of theatre about women imprisoned in a man-ordered universe," said Ann Saddlemyer in Rough Justice. Essays on Crime in Literature, "but at the same time ... it speaks beyond this framework to explore even more far-reaching concerns of time and spirit" The structure of the play has received a good deal of attention and credit is given to Pollock for her effective use of the dream thesis.

Paul Matthew St. Pierre, writing in Canadian Writers since 1960, praised Pollock for her ability to reach audiences in "imaginatively and strikingly unconventional manners." The critic lauded her for the use of the dream thesis m which the past is called up with the assistance of the Actress. St. Pierre claimed that this technique creates far more dramatic suspense than the actual physical action of the ax. "This technical accomplishment, more than anything else, is the source of the play's triumph."

The structure of Blood Relations allows for the ambiguity that is interwoven throughout the play. Nowhere does the play slate in absolute terms that Lizzie is guilty (although the Actress's perception, playing Lizzie in the dream sequence, seems to indicate so). And the court acquits her. Bui then there's the Actress who arrives at the conclusion, after playing the role of Lizzie, that she is guilty.

A basic question that resounds throughout the play is "did she?" The play remains ambiguous and never really fully answers this. According to Saddlemyer, Pollock successfully reframes the question by pointing the finger (and ultimately the hatchet) at the viewer and asking, in Lizzie's shoes, what would you do?

Mary Pat Mombourquette noted in the International Encyclopedia of Theatre that Pollock is not one to let the audience off the hook. Passivity is not allowed. "Instead she demands that the audience acknowledge that the act of judging makes them active participants in the theatrical event." Pollock, in the interview in The Work,...

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entertained the thought that there may be more to the story, and that she has another play to write that takes off whereBlood Relations ends. That play, she staled, will examine what happens to the woman who is unable to kill her father or mother, or even herself. That play will be "about women and madness."

Pollock has been labeled a regional playwright, living and working on the western coast of Canada. This is a label she both accepts with pleasure, looking askance at New York and London for acceptance, and one that she resists. Diane Bessai, in her introduction to Blood Relation and Other Plays, thinks the label is limiting, stating that "few playwrights practicing the craft in Canada today have her range and technique."


Essays and Criticism