Writer Draws From Life

Local author and playwright Robert MacDonald suffered a period of time in hospital wrapped in depression, an unwanted sidekick to his Parkinson's disease. But this introspective time proved to be fertile. While there, he drafted the skeleton of a play, The Writer, that expressed much about his life. Then, like writers often do, he put the play aside for the next eight months.

When actor and director David Short asked MacDonald to be in a performance of one of Short's original Easter plays, the creative juices rose again.

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"Being in the play got me off medications and I dusted off my script," MacDonald recalls.

Suddenly eager to bring it to the stage, he realized he needed help. He turned to Marya Hardman, a published poet and scholar, for editing help, and she asked those difficult questions that writers struggle to answer: "What is it you're trying to say here, Robert?"

Gradually, the play took shape, but he knew he needed a good director.

"Once I saw how David could get children to do so much on stage, I realized he was the one to direct it," MacDonald said.

After reading it, Short pronounced it a great play, and the two set about gathering cast and crew. Serendipity again - the creative Wendy Crumpler stepped forward to act as coach, along with her computer and her ability to polish the script.

MacDonald was at a coffee shop one day when a stranger, Roza Rogers, dropped a theatre program advertising his forthcoming production.

"That's my play," he remarked, to her delight.

Rogers came on board as co-producer and general organizer, offering some of the legwork that MacDonald finds difficult.

Again in a coffee shop, MacDonald spotted a man who looked like movie star Mickey Rooney and asked him if he'd ever acted before. Without delay, Brian Lucas joined the cast. Other actors in the production have had more experience: Bryan Carson plays the writer himself, opposite the character's mentor, a professor modelled after the real life Hardman, and performed by Catherine Fuller. David Wheater as Jim, the good friend, reportedly steals the show. Bertha Clark, a dub poet, is the conscience of the play and the narrator. Laura Siegler, last seen in Haiku, a Driftwood production, is the herbal healer and love interest. Leif Mjanes and Selene Rose perform other roles. The latter is a Grade 12 Elphinstone Secondary School student who will understudy the role of herbal healer. Daniel Tyrrell has constructed the stage set.

The play, billed as a serious comedy, is about the vagaries of the writing life. Sean is a successful writer with three books to his credit. But he's in turmoil, a kind of mid-life crisis; he feels his true passion has fallen by the wayside. He wants to be an actor. His best buddy Jim is not supportive and his other friends, his muse who treats him like a son and his beloved healer, also question this move.

MacDonald previously wrote the successful play, Home Care - A Love Story, that was performed at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse in early 2009 to full houses. Also drawn from his life, it described a man with a disability who falls in love with his visiting home care worker. It incorporated other wonderful elements: a dance sequence and cameo appearances by residents of a local care home.

"The common denominator [between the two plays] is love and trust," MacDonald said. "To me, love is the tall pole in the tent."

The Writer opens Nov. 12 and runs Nov. 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinée on the 14th, then again Nov. 17 to 19 at the Heritage Playhouse. Tickets are $15, available at Hallmark Cards and Gaia's Fair Trade in Gibsons.

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