Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch was born in 1978. Toronto Life magazine called her “an indie sensation”; CBC Radio says she’s ”the wunderkind of Canadian theatre." “The dark angel of Toronto theatre” (the Toronto Star) has been acknowledged by The National Post, The Globe and Mail and Now magazine simply as “Canada’s Hottest Young Playwright.” She has received a quiver full of grants, prizes, awards and nominations to encourage her in her work, including a Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize of $150,000. Established in 2013, administered by Yale University, this prize is given out to eight or nine writers of drama, fiction and non-fiction from around the world each year. WOW.
Sorry to be self-referential for a moment, but when I was 38 I was married with four children (the youngest brain-damaged), recently moved to Stratford, where my husband was the new manager of the Festival, cooking a lot for a never-ending stream of guests, drunk with my own goodwill. I considered myself a playwright, beginning with puppet plays that trouped the schools in Winnipeg; a Canadian adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (produced by the ManitobaTheatre Centre and the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto); and a children’s play, Kingsayer (MTC plus the Calgary Pumphouse Theatre).
The Writer’s Union of Canada was not yet formed; The Playwright’s Co-op (then Union, now Guild), only a gleam in Brian Doherty’s eye in the back yard of his house in Niagara on the Lake; PWAC, the Periodical (now Professional) Writers’ Association of Canada, in the wings until 1976. Canada Council had been formed by an Act of Parliament in 1957; funded originally by revenues from an endowment fund. It had only recently begun to receive annual appropriations from Parliament (in the late 1960s) to sustain and increase a system of grants to artists.
The world was very different then. That was then, this is now.
Last week I saw Moscovitch’s new play, “Bunny”, commissioned by the Stratford Festival and presented at the Studio Theatre, to - need I say? - rave reviews. Any criticism I dare to offer is going to be seen as sour grapes. (Aesop, anyone?) Well, let me say that to me, the play is like the curate’s egg. This expression comes from an old Liverpudlian friend who explained that since curates were generally known to be poor, they couldn’t afford really good, fresh eggs. So the curate's egg was only good in parts. Like Bunny.
Bunny is Moscovitch’s 8th, maybe 9th play? (lost count) The others have been very grown-up, with important backgrounds (e.g. Holocaust, Afghanistan). This one is personal, a youngish woman coming to terms with her family, position in life, sexual drive, etc. etc. A lot of it is presented in long monologues that make it sound more like a novel than a play. I think Playwriting 101 and Judith Thompson teach playwrights to begin with monologues to help them discover their characters and stories. Too often, they remain stuck in narrative. A younger audience is very forgiving though, because the play offers explicit sex - very hip, very hot - and that seems to forgive a lot.
Well, who am I to say? I’m nobody.