Hunger. Breakwater Books
Crippled. Breakwater Books
Two Newfoundland and Labrador playwrights have created evocative works in very different theatrical traditions. Paul David Power’s Crippled examines the aftermath of a man’s loss of his life partner and explores issues related to disability and sexuality in a work grounded in social realism; Meghan Greeley’s allegorical Hunger is set in a time of persecution, featuring a middle-aged couple. They have taken in endangered “guests” who must be hidden from the neighbours. Both plays successfully consider how characters surviving at the very edge of despair negotiate a way forward.
Hunger opens with a clear differentiation of status: an older couple in a remote farmhouse sits at their table eating bowls of soup, while a younger pair eats at their feet, concealed from the window and potential passersby. Throughout the play, as its title suggests, food is a central preoccupation that is closely tied to power and status. Max and Johanna are sheltering Isaak and Rivka, assigning them an alcove behind a dresser where they spend most of each day and night. With the young couple’s rent money quickly depleted by tacked-on costs, and with few possessions left to barter or sell, a wealthy teenager, Helen, is brought to the home and given the couple’s space, while they are consigned to a claustrophobic cellar.
Max and Johanna view themselves as benefactors who are protecting the trio from danger. But as food becomes harder to secure, and the discovery of visitors hidden in a pregnant neighbour’s home leads to disaster, Max and Johanna are increasingly peremptory in dealing with the newcomers. The detection of a letter Helen wrote to her father, complaining about her living conditions, is the catalyst for a descent into violence, as the bleakly, blackly comic work anticipates disaster for all of the play’s characters.
While deliberately choosing not to specify a time, place, or ethnic background for the assailed group in Hunger, Greeley conveys the uneasy relationship between the couple and their dependents. Max and Johanna are revealed as avaricious and exploitative of the people in their care, while Helen’s awareness that her father has paid a tidy sum for her to be concealed prompts her to minimize her fellow guests’ discomfort and mistreatment. Greeley’s language is taut and spare, but always believable, as characters struggle to survive in an increasingly inhospitable environment that propels them to turn on each other. Much of what matters happens at a level of subtext, as small gestures and objects, such as a coveted sugar cube, are imbued with rich and symbolic meaning.
In Power’s Crippled, a more individual tragedy is explored: a man whose partner of nine years died suddenly sits on a St. John’s wharf late at night gazing at the water. A stranger who has followed him from a nearby gay bar seeks assurance that he is not suicidal, which provokes an alternately tetchy and tender dialogue between the two. Tony (the pseudonym Paul first offers) has a disability that affects his walking, and he reflects on how his upbringing and adult life have been inflected by other people’s views of his sexuality and his physical appearance. Only his late lover, Jonathan, approached him as an equal, and he fears never being able to replicate that experience, having just that evening been slighted at the bar. As the play develops, Power introduces a twist that calls into question the nature of the relationship between the two men who appear to have just met at a crisis point in one of their lives, and the play’s apparent realism dissolves into something more complex.
While more explicitly didactic than Greeley’s work, Crippled is extraordinarily moving when the dialogue conveys the protagonist’s loneliness and despair. Power draws attention to the complicated intersection of disability and sexuality. Only Jonathan made Paul think “the crutches, the deformed legs, the leg braces, the ugly scars from surgeries . . . none of it mattered . . . And then he left” (51). As Paul recalls his lover’s tenderness and the shock of his dying, Power’s language is clear and direct.
While both playwrights are actors who appeared in the first productions of their respective plays, and Power’s play is also semi-autobiographical, these dramas are not restricted to a particular form of casting; they are explicitly intended to enable flexible and inclusive productions, a welcome recent development in Canadian theatre.
Canadian Literature is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.