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Monday, December 10, 2007

THE PLAY'S THE THING!

As Shakespeare said "The play's the thing..." (Hamlet) and recently I've attended several wonderful theatre events.

Last month I went to see a play about Tennessee Williams, my favorite playwright, "His Greatness", which was about a period of time Williams spent here in Vancouver while one of his least successful plays was being reproduced. (It bombed!). Williams (1911 - 1983) was a prolific playwright and author and when I wrote my play "The Street" I was very influenced by his work. Of course one of his most memorable lines was from "A Streetcar Named Desire", spoken by Blanche " Whoever you are -- I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Just after "His Greatness" was performed here, there was a production of "The Glass Menagerie" which I unfortunately missed.

The next play I went to see was Eugene O'Neill's "A Moon for the Misbegotten". This may be the first O'Neill play I've seen and I was totally captivated. It's said that this play was an attempt to understand a brother he had once idolised then watched fall into the seedier side of life. O'Neill was born in a Broadway Hotel room. (His father was an actor who toured in "The Count of Monte Cristo") His family life was unhappy and he used his own experiences as themes for his plays. He was the first playwright to write a play with a major role for a black actor,
"The Emperor Jones".

Then I went to see a play by a Canadian playwright, George Ryga, a prairie boy from a poor Ukranian family who left school after grade six and worked at a variety of jobs, then won a scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts. His first play "Indian" was perfomed on TV in 1961. He received national acclaim for his next play "The Ecstasy of Rita Joe" which was first performed here in Vancouver in 1967. This is the play I finally was able to see, with a cast that was mainly First Nations people. I always thought Ryga himself was part First Nations but he wasn't, which makes this play and it's subject, all the more remarkable -- the deep insights he had into the plight of Indian people who come to the city from their reserves and so often fall into such tragedy. This play, by Ryga is considered by many to be the most important English language play by a Canadian playwright.

This weekend I went to see my most favorite of Shakespeare's plays "Richard III". It's the first Shakespeare play I ever saw, when I was 13 years old, and it resonated so much and influenced me so much that I've never forgotten it. Perhaps that's what propelled me to write tragedy. I was riveted by the acting (especially the actor who played Richard); the costumes, set and makeup all added to the eerie sense of evil and darkness. Who can ever forget those famous opening lines: "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious suumer by this sun of York." I remember that the first time I visited London, in the mid '70's, I had to go to the Tower to see where the young prince's were murdered. Seeing the play brought back so many memories.

One sad memory of my own...the day I came home from the theatre, a young impressionable kid just bubbling with enthusiasm for what I'd seen and heard, I was met at the door by my Mom who sadly told me our very dear pet Spaniel Duchess had been killed by a car that day.
Talk about being immersed in tragedy! I have never forgotten that day, or the play.

I needed some inspiration for the next part of my novel and just being there, listening to Shakespeare's words being spoken by the dastardly Richard, and the various dramatic roles of the women in the play, gave me lots of ideas. So it's back to work on Shadow of the Lion. And I'm getting closer to the end!


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