By Andrew Ross
"You don’t have to like poetry to like this show," says playwright Linda Griffiths of Alien Creature. The play escaped the extreme gravity at the centre of the universe (Toronto) to emerge as part of One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo. A biography of the late Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, the play won Griffiths, who also stars in the play, the 2000 Chalmers Award for Canadian Playwriting.
According to Griffiths, the play’s title has a universal meaning. "Alien Creature refers to a certain kind of person everyone has met, who have a hard time with the day-to-day," she says. MacEwen sounds like someone we can relate to, but despite her appeal, she can be a daunting figure.
"Ms. MacEwen made me run in the other direction," says Griffiths, referring to her original hesitation to write about MacEwen’s life. "Yet I was drawn to [her life]. When I got into it, I just loved it, and I loved her."
MacEwen was a well-known poet who died at 46 from alcohol-related illnesses. The daughter of a schizophrenic and an alcoholic, MacEwen was a creative genius. Involved in the beat poetry scene in the ’50s, she later became involved in poetry of the dark, and won the Governor General’s Award at age 27. MacEwen taught herself three languages and travelled in the Eastern Mediterranean, later settling in Toronto.
Griffiths sees MacEwen as "the antithesis of practical decisions," and "a magic woman." In spite of the play’s subject matter, or perhaps because of it, Griffiths took MacEwen’s advice that "you can shove the poem," including only 34 lines of MacEwen’s poetry in the play.
This production promises to be especially interesting, thanks to the corroboration of Griffiths with her director and dramaturge (dramatic researcher), 28-year-old Simon Heath. In addition to Griffiths and Heath, there were only three other people on the play’s crew. Griffiths notes however, that they did bring in a consultant for the many illusions used in the play.
"We had a magic consultant called Magic Mike," she says.
The magic tricks are intended to bring the surreal element into a concrete form in the play.
Alien Creature runs Jan. 18-21 in the Engineered Air Theatre.