TONIGHT, the closing night of the festival, is your last chance to catch the two winners of our Playwriting Competition, a double-bill of the one-acts The Lye Sandwich by Clarissa Hurley and Jobbers by Jeff Lloyd. Both fantastic shows, they start at 8pm at Memorial Hall UNB, and tickets run $15/adult, $12/senior and $10/student. You won’t want to miss these great New Brunswick plays!
In honour of closing night, we have a featured interview with one of our playwrights: Clarissa Hurley, the author of The Lye Sandwich. Read on below for her writing motivation, inside info on the show, and more!
Tell us what inspired your play?
An interest in generic adaptation, combined with a sense of negligence.
Further to the first point: I published a short story some years ago in an anthology of Christmas stories, which explores the dyad of Sam and Yves. Upon revisiting it, I began to expand the story, add characters, complicate the plot, and realized I was writing almost entirely in dialogue. This was when it occurred to me it might be a play.
On the second point, for more than 25 years, I have studied and worked in theatre in just about every capacity except as a playwright or stage manager. The latter is definitely too difficult for me, so I thought I’d try writing a script.
The two plays in Acting Out present a wonderful study in contrasts in terms of style and subject matter, yet there are links between them as well. Both are recognizably set in Fredericton and feature casts of tightly knit characters among whom dramatic tensions erupt. In what sense and to what degree would you consider your play a New Brunswick story?
To some degree, in the sense that these characters are loosely inspired by a world that was familiar to me growing up here in Fredericton. But the play deals with themes or occurrences that have a far broader reach: betrayal in love, loss of loved ones, the guilt experienced by harming a loved one, the burden of inheritance (psychological and material), and the struggle to balance or integrate the lives we want to create for ourselves with the legacy of what has been given to us. With minor adjustments, this play could be set in many different locales.
Tell us what influenced the stylistic choices in your play? And tell us about the dog?
There are many influences at work here, including the early 17th century plays of Falminio Scala, which are studies in intergenerational familial conflict and class warfare. (I’ve downplayed the second part of that for the purpose of shortening the play to one act.) A typical Scala scenario depicts two widowed fathers, in conflict with their children over romantic interests, with the help and hindrance of their servant-friends. TLS is a pared-down version of that structure, but it still affords endless plot possibilities when you throw betrayal, murder, incest, etc…, into the mix. Perhaps less known is that Scala’s plays also contain themes of incest (usually averted) and characters who are culturally “other.”
I’ve also referenced Coleridge’s fascinating fragment, “Christabel,” mostly to evoke a slightly oneiric, gothic mood, which resonates with the idea here of secrets, things hidden, sometimes not so well hidden.
Re. Gerry and Najua: When I was 11 years old, my mother became briefly notorious among the ladies who lunch for taking me to see TNB’s production of Peter Shaeffer’s Equus. People admonished her for allowing me to see naked actors in a stylized sex scene. I, of course, was indifferent to the nudity, but captivated by the stunning portrayal of the horses, played by four buff young men, minimally masked, in tight black jeans and 8-inch drag heels. Since then, I have been interested in how the human body might represent the animal. Allie Ingalls has done wonderful work in this very challenging role. I only wish I could see her develop it further.
There is also a spectre in this play of mannerist art and the figure art historians later labeled “der Sprecher” (“the speaker”), a figure, usually in a crowd scene, who looks directly out at the viewer, often pointing to something in the picture. In TLS (as in many real homes), the dog and the housekeeper are silent witnesses to the violence and abuse that happen inside the beautifully appointed veneer of the house. Although they are silent, we listen to them, follow their stories and see the other characters partly through their eyes. With the name, I have also connected the dog to Chris’s absent mother, Geraldine. Never having known her mother, Chris has had to create Geraldine’s story through the second-hand accounts she has heard, and her own desire to know and understand her.
Finally, the dog is another wink at Coleridge’s poem, in which a mastiff bitch guards the castle by the clock tower. Here I mix things up a bit by conflating her with the mysterious Geraldine who is helped into the house by Christabel. I was drawn to this image of the outsider being brought in by the apparently more innocent party, as it complicates the tendency to ascribe blame or responsibility too readily. Samantha has erred and trespassed, but has also been brought into the situation. There are no uncomplicated roles here.
\you have been involved with the festival in previous years in different capacities. How have your experiences this year compared, and any thoughts on the festival as a whole?
For the second year running, I am swearing not to combine administrative and creative roles. Famous last words, I’m clearly a slow learner. But it’s theatre, it’s messy; you just have to get it done.
I think the festival affords the best opportunity in anglophone New Brunswick for playwrights, aspiring and experienced, to develop their craft. NotaBle Acts provides expert dramaturgical advice and the opportunity to take the play from the script to the three dimensional, visual world of the stage.