The Play (I)

Antoine-Jean Gros, "Sappho at Leucadia"

I began this book as a play. In the summer of 2000, my friend Chris Abraham (unrecognizable in the dark) told me to think fast and come up with an idea to pitch to the Montreal Young Company. He expressed the preference that the setting of the play be their own city.

Like many companies devoted to mounting works from the classical rep, the Montreal Young Co. was crowded with larger-than life actresses who had very little to do, most of the great parts in such plays (Shakespeare excepted) having been written for men.

So I decided I would write a show that would restore the balance of work in this particular rep, eat up their hours and provide a full evening of hoofing it on stage. My goal was for the girls to feel, by the end of the night, that they'd dug their ditches as deep as the boys.

The ways and means of the girls who saw everything in the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club arose from that necessity.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal that my first pitch had actually been an adaptation of Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, but that's more or less another story. 'More than anything else, I dislike muchness' was the essence of the author's response to my treatment. And it was true. I had definitely offered her muchness, my top priority having always been fun for the performers. I could not help myself in that regard. Everything else was secondary. Perhaps that doesn't ultimately make for powerful playwriting. The collaboration described in the link appears to have served Ms. Carson much better than I would have.)

I'd always wanted to write an oratorio of The Epic of Gilgamesh for a Toronto choral ensemble called the Boys Choir of Lesbos. Why Gilgamesh is a subject for another post. Why the Boys Choir was because I had seen them put on a wonderfully terrible over-the-top performance adaptation (sans singing) of The Lord of the Flies — a glorious celebration of women playing the roles of violent innocent boys. I loved every minute of it. I wanted to harness that energy and bring it to the telling of Gilgamesh — with singing too — in a full blown oratorio.

The inherent contradiction (oratorios are essentially stand-and-deliver singing performances) did not seem to have occurred to me. I don't know what I was thinking.

And of course the Montreal Young Company was not the Boys Choir of Lesbos. They wanted a play, not a static opera, no recitatives allowed. So I set out to create a scenario wherein the actresses of the MYC would have reason to be as passionate and devil-may-care committed/crazy — as godlike — as the Boys Choir in their dirt-smeared, topless, war-paint wail of a William Golding reenactment. That was really how the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Women's Book Club was born.

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