Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

An Appetite for Americans

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An Appetite for Americans

Day 10. Still no cigarettes.

There's something about quitting smoking that has made me want to spend less time thinking about my emotional psychology. Or perhaps its just spring.

I've seen two fantastic pieces of theatre this week. On Wednesday afternoon I saw The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. It is written by a New York writer named Stephen Adly Guirgis. The play was directed by David Ferry, and it played at the Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District. As far as I can tell, the Fermenting Cellar is, in fact, an old fermenting cellar. So, one may imagine the images this conjures.

This play is a remarkable example of the difference between a theatre piece in print, and a theatre piece on stage. I had originally read this play, and actually auditioned and was cast to be in the original production (a few years ago). I turned down the role to accept a larger role in a different play, and was not sure that I thought it was a very good play.

I was wrong.

It was incredible, but only because of how it translated onto a stage.

Canadian theatre, much like our literature, is unique in that we seem to have a very real desire to connect to subtextual, ironic and often denser explorations of story. Its HARD to make this work good. One must be able to see and feel things that, for whatever reason, is harder for everyone to see. Reading between the lines, seeing the cracks and prying them open to get a bit closer to the truth. Now, I can't speak to literature (though I'd love it if someone could), but in theatre, this generally means that there is a lot of bad theatre. There is a lot of mediocrity, as people will often believe they are, in fact, writing about something that is interesting. The truth is that it is not. In theatre, you can write a play, and you can put it on. Its quite simple really. There are fringe festivals, and grants that can be awarded (particularly if your work is somehow connected to multi-culturalism, or specifically topical - disease, disability, etc, etc). Topic, however, does not mean GOOD.

I imagine that if someone writes a bad novel, however, it will simply not get published. Someone could publish their own book, though I wonder if anyone would buy it. This is a very real question I have.

I digress.

I do feel like our literature is often, generally, more successful than our theatre, mostly because I feel like really good writers who really love to write are not necessarily drawn to the theatre. Writing a play is extraordinarily different than writing prose (as far as I can tell). When writing a play, every moment must be imagined actually occurring on a stage. Subtext must often be unspoken, and the emotional life of a character is often discovered through their subconscious actions. With prose, an author will often write the inner monologue of a character. On a stage, the inner monologue is something determined by the actor or the director, and is translated through movements on a stage in relationship to other people or objects on a stage.

Unless, of course, it is the sort of play where people talk about their feelings, or stylistically, it veers away from realism and into something else (absurdism, farce, etc).

So, why all this mumbo jumbo? Last Days of Judas Iscariot worked so well, mostly because, theatrically, it explored a style that is rarely successful in Canada. There was no subtext. Nothing. I could get into the nitty gritty details, but I'm already starting to feel a bit bored of myself -- but I will say that it was thrilling to see a bold, confident piece of theatre that simply, to put it bluntly, kicked ass. It kicked our asses. It was loud. It was brash. It was emotional. It was frightening. And, most importantly, it centred around our relationship to faith and it didn't pull any punches.

I wish I could recommend you see it, but unfortunately, it has closed. If Mirvish were smart, they would pick it up and give it a run in their season next year. It was thrilling.

The second show I saw was called APPETITE. Its playing at Theatre Passe Muraille right now. It is a theatre/movement/clown based piece centred around the idea of "Appetite". Whatever the conjures in your mind, your will likely find expored in the play. It is also a very bold piece of theatre, created by another American woman named Sarah Sanford. It is hysterical, in all definitions of that word. I highly recommend it.

Apr 16 to 26.
Tues to Sat @ 8pm
Sat PWYC matinees at 2:30pm
No show on Sunday apr 18
ADDED show on Sunday, Apr 26 at 2:30pm.
416-504-7529 for tickets

Interesting that these works by these Americans are having such an impact on me and the city. There is something about the confidence of the work that we may be trying to move more towards in the theatre. Or perhaps theatre only really works when it is confident, but theatre is, by its nature, an insecure art form. Or, perhaps NOW it is an insecure art form, as, perhaps its lost its meaning.

Do any of you go to the theatre? I bet you wish you went more. So why don't you? This isn't a criticism, its actually a real question. What would get you into the theatre more?


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Michael Rubenfeld

Michael Rubenfeld is a writer, director, actor and producer. His plays include Present Tense, Spain and My Fellow Creatures.

Go to Michael Rubenfeld’s Author Page