Yesterday I went to see a new play at Canadian Stage, Lucy Kirkwood’s “Chimerica” (a portmanteau word for China and America) about Chinese-American relations since 1989, the year of the Tiananmen bloodbath. Ms. Kirkwood was 5 when it happened. This is not her first play. Before she graduated (from the University of Edinburgh) she had had two professional productions of plays she had written. And more since. Wow.
Before I go on about her (and me), let me just say what a fine experience Canadian Stage (in co-production with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre) gave us. The 40-some scenes shift with minimum props and furniture against a huge revolving wall showing rear-screen projections and dropping cages and windows revealing the characters, 17 actors in all, some of them playing multiple roles. It may sound complicated but it’s effective and moving. The dialogue crackles with political information and commentary but with a human edge in the characters, and sparkling wit. The playwright is well served. The director, Chris Abraham, deserves our gratitude, too.
But Lucy Kirkwood strikes awe in my heart. I don’t envy her, exactly; I take nothing away from her but I wish I had some too. How would you like to be a white, upper middle class, straight, female, Canadian (from Winnipeg, for Heaven’s sake!) 85-year-old playwright? When I was coming up to consciousness, there were no creative writing classes. The first one I ever attended was available after I was married and pregnant and I had to drop out because the other students smoked and made me terribly sick. James Reaney (Canadian poet and playwright, 1926-2008) was our teacher. He said to me that I seemed to be unwilling to harness my talent to any serious endeavor. I didn’t tell him I was pregnant. Later I wrote a play about a woman in labour, almost a total monologue. I gave it to John Hirsch (Canadian theatre director, 1930-1989) when he was at MTC (co-founded with Tom Hendry) and he called it “that bed thing”.
In an interview a couple of years ago, Lucy Kirkwood commented on the lack (!) of opportunity. She is quoted as saying, “You’re allowed to write as long as you’re writing about being a young woman.” What about being an old woman?
I’m not finished yet.