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Zastrozzi Feb 7, 1989

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Costume Design Sketch
by Catherine King
University of British Columbia
Frederic Wood Theatre
presents
Zastrozzi
by
George F. Walker
Directed by
Robin Nichol
February 7-11
1989
For information and reservations
phone 228-2678 The Co(s)mic-Exotic Theatre of
George F. Walker
It's 1970 and a 23-year-old, self-educated, working class kid is
driving cab in Toronto. He sees a flyer on a lamppost soliciting
scripts for a new theatre and decides to give it a try. A year later he
attends the opening of his play Prince of Naples at the Factory
Theatre Lab - only the second play he's ever seen. For the next six
years he's the Factory Lab's playwright in residence and soon the
most distinctive voice in the burgeoning Canadian theatre. While all
around him dramatists wrestle solemnly with questions of National
Identity and Authentic Canadian Experience, George F. Walker
transcribes the increasingly exotic experiences banging around
inside his head.
His earliest plays are absurdist exercises in the manner of Ionesco
and Beckett, but his own bizarre imagination doesn't take long to
emerge. In Bagdad Saloon (1973) an Arab peasant kidnaps Henry
Miller, Gertude Stein and Doc Halliday to try to learn the secret of
mythic immortality. An ex-Nazi doctor performs diabolical
experiments in the African jungle in Beyond Mozambique (1974),
assisted by his wife who thinks she's Olga in Chekov's Three
Sisters, a pederastic priest and a mountie disgraced for massacring a
herd of cattle. Ramona and the White Slaves (1976) opens with the
opium-besotted madam of a Hong Kong brothel hallucinating being
raped by a poisonous lizard. In Zastrozzi (1977) the master criminal
of all Europe ("the clear sane voice of negative spirituality") hunts
down an artist who claims to be the messiah. As Factory Lab artistic
director Ken Gass understates in his introduction to Walker's first
published collection, "Not many prairie landscapes in George
Walker's plays."
Throughout this period Walker's style is largely comic book gothic
with generous dollops of B-movie cliche. "My mind is a media
garbage bag," he admitted without apology. But with Zastrozzi he
showed that he could synthesize a wide variety of sophosticated
source materials along with the pop-cultural stuff. Nietzsche and
Artaud, Jacobean revenge tragedy and romantic melodrama all dwell
together in the play on "that fine line between the serious and the
comic" where Walker says most of his dramatic work lives. (The
original source was Percy Bysshe Shelley's baroque prose fantasy
of the same title which Walker claims he never actually read.)
Zastrozzi also epitomizes Walker's fundamentally philosophical
mindset. The Walkeresque hero (or anti-hero), engaging a world
characterized by chaos in every form, is obsessed with restoring
order, imposing justice or rediscovering meaning, even if he has to
invent it. "Life is a series of totally arbitrary and often meaningless
events," Zastrozzi deadpans to his confederates, "and the only way
to make sense of life is to forget that you know that."
Since Zastrozzi, Walker has continued exploring this thematic terrain
but in less exotic settings and with characters only slightly larger
than life. Gossip, Filthy Rich, The Art of War and Theatre of the
Film Noir (1977-82) comprise a. film noir series featuring shabby
private eye/investigative reporter Tyrone M. Power trying to make
some sense of the chaotic murk that is life in the modern city.
Moving even further from the stylization of Walker's earlier work
are the three "East End Plays," Criminals in Love, Better Living and
Beautiful City (1984-87), which are nominally set in the east end of
Toronto. The underside of real urban life is brought into marginal
focus in these plays - poverty, rampant development, homelessness
- but their central concern is Walker's same old co(s)mic-apocalyptic
vision. As one character says, "I use words like destiny and fate and
despair. I talk of the great abyss which beckons us all...I describe
the human condition."
Though Walker has won every theatre award in Toronto and
achieved some broad popular success with Gossip, Filthy Rich and
Zastrozzi, his breakthrough into the mainstream of Big Time theatre
has only come with his most recent play, Nothing Sacred (1988).
This quirky adaptation of Turgenev's Fathers and Sons is the
surprise hit of the season on the North American regional circuit
from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Vancouver to Chicago,
Hartford and Washington. Not that Walker is doing anything he
hasn't done before in this darkly comic examination of nihilism and
the 19th century Russian aristocracy. Maybe, as Globe and Mail
critic Ray Conlogue recently suggested, "Public taste has finally
caught up with George F. Walker, hippie surrealist."
Jerry Wasserman teaches English and Theatre at U.B.C. and will
soon be seen trying to save the infamous Robin Givens in The
Penthouse, an ABC Movie-of-the-Week. Zastrozzi
by George F. Walker
Directed by
Robin Nichol
Set Design by
Ross Nichol*
Lighting Design by
Alan Brodie
Costume Design by Sound Design by
Catherine King Darryll Patterson
CAST
Zastrozzi James Binkley
Bernardo Peter Wilds
Verezzi David Mackay
Victor Timothy Hyland
Matilda Lois Anderson
Julia Tracy Holmes
Europe. Probably Italy. The 1890s.
There will be one fifteen minute intermission.
*Ross Nichol is a freelance designer and a member of
the Associated Designers of Canada.
Zastrozzi
is produced by special arrangement with
Great North Artists Management Inc.
Toronto
PRODUCTION
Technical Director Randall Plitt
Stage Manager Darryll Patterson
Properties Supervisor Heather Kent
Head Scenic Artist Kairiin Bright
Lighting Assistant Jill Buckham
Costume Assistant Carol Evans
Assistant Scenic Artist Paula Pryce
Properties Assistant Nik von Schulmann
Electrics Crew Heather Kent, Glen Winter
Lighting Operator Nancy Lyons
Sound Operator Randall Plitt
Wardrobe Mistress Jill Buckham
Make-up Nick Davis
Costume Supervisor Chelsea Moore
Set Construction.. . Don Griffiths, John Henrickson, Robert Moser
Costume Cutter Jean Driscoll-Bell
Fight/Stunt Coordinator Charles Andr6
Wig and Hair Stylist Elizabeth Nichol
Box Office Carol Fisher, Jason Smith
House Manager Sara Levine
Business Manager Marjorie Fordham
Programme Editor Tracy Holmes
Production Robert Eberle
Acknowledgments
George Haide
Maria Hutzinger
J.Cricket Price "The Home of
the Canadian Playwright"
George Walker was no overnight success. But while his early plays
earned little acclaim, Walker slowly developed into one of Canada's
foremost playwrights. The conditions which enabled this development were unique in the history of Canadian theatre. In the first half
of the 1970s, new playwrights such as Walker were routinely given
the freedom to fail and to learn from that failure. The subsequent
success of many Canadian playwrights - Walker, Carol Bolt, David
French and others - was due in part to the exceptional opportunities
available in Toronto at that time.
In 1970, theatre in Toronto was dominated by American models.
Hair ran all year at the opulent Royal Alexandra Theatre, providing
the Rosedale set with a dose of counter-culture in a hygienic and
palatable form. At the other end of the audience spectrum,
Chicago 70 ran for three months at Toronto Workshop Productions,
that cell of old socialist ideology. Although collectively created by
Canadian actors, Chicago 70 too paid homage to the American
counter-culture: the "Chicago 7" and those rabble-rousers who
nominated a pig for President.
At the same time, a spate of new theatres were founded in Toronto
on American models. The first of these was Theatre Passe Muraille,
inspired by off-off-Broadway's famous Caf6 La Mama. Another
was the Global Village, an artists' colony a la Greenwich Village,
with a warehouse performing space modelled on Richard
Schechner's Performance Garage. The Studio Lab, another of
Toronto's "off-Yonge-Street" theatres, ran Schechner's Dionysus in
69 for more than eight months, with (as in New York) curious
college students making up the largest part of the audience. In
Toronto, however, cast and audience generally kept their
bacchic frenzies under control, and their clothes on. This was
Canada, after all.
And among all these stars and stripes, where was the Canadian
theatre? Well, this was Canadian theatre as we understood the term,
since the plays were produced and performed by Canadians. In
1970 the Canadian playwright was incidental to Canadian theatre:
the only one with an international reputation, John Herbert of
Fortune and Men's Eyes fame, could not not even fill his 35-seat
Garret Theatre. Toronto's mainstream St. Lawrence Centre bravely
tried an all-Canadian premiere season in 1970, but soon retreated to
Mary Mary under the pressures of bad reviews and poor box office.
In 1970 the Canadian playwright was ignored even by Toronto's
alternative theatres, later so celebrated for their nationalism, who
pursued foreign alternative models rather than foreign mainstream
ones.
In the ensuing two years, new alternative companies focused the
attention of Canadian theatre on the Canadian playwright. The most
prominent of them was Tarragon Theatre, led by Bill Glassco,
which first produced the plays of David Freeman, David French,
and Michel Tremblay (in English). To a great extent, however, the
new nationalistic approach to dramaturgy was triggered by the
Factory Theatre Lab and its young artistic director Ken Gass.
Gass (b. 1945) was raised in Abbotsford, studied theatre and
creative writing at U.B.C, and went to Toronto in 1968 to look for
a job teaching high school. Writing an article on one of John
Herbert's thinly-attended plays led Gass to teach some workshops
and direct some small productions at the Garret and at Theatre Passe
Muraille. More importantly, it led to Gass' awareness of how
neglected the Canadian playwright was in Canadian theatre, even a
playwright as highly regarded as Herbert.
In May 1970 Gass started his own company, the Factory Theatre
Lab, in a former candle factory above an auto-body shop. At the
outset, he announced that the Factory would produce only Canadian
plays. (A huge sign in the stairwell read "Discover Canada before
the Yanks do".) Gass called his company "the home of the
Canadian playwright" - even though there were so few scripts
available that he put leaflets around town to solicit new plays. That's
how he met George Walker. In this programming policy, as we
have seen, Gass was definitely swimming against the current. But
fashions change in the theatre, as they do anywhere; soon he found
himself the leader of a "Canada First" movement in Canadian
dramaturgy.
Talk to anyone about the early years of the Factory, and the word
you will keep hearing is "chaos". While partly due to poor
organization, the chaos at the Factory stemmed mainly from the high sense of purpose which Gass brought to it. Typically, he would
propose a policy or a project simply because it was a good, or a
noble, or an important idea. Then all the resources of the Factory
would be plunged into a terrible struggle to make it happen. The
amazing thing is that the process worked. Into vacuums created in
this way would rush the talent and energy needed to accomplish
Gass' goals, however absurdly idealistic they seemed. The Factory
was fuelled by the purity of his causes. Perhaps the world then was
more hospitable to idealists than it is today.
Cooler heads left. Bill Glassco, for instance, the Factory's first
dramaturge, coudn't stand its haphazard production methods and
self-destructive scheduling; but he found in Gass' devotion to the
Canadian playwright a vision and a purpose which his own work
had been lacking, and he adopted the Factory's nationalistic
programing policy when he founded Tarragon Theatre. To most
young artists, however, the Factory was irresistible. No more
knocking on doors begging for a chance to prove yourself. No more
polite refusals. As long as you didn't expect much sleep or much
money, all you had to do was to show up. Soon you'd be
fundraising, vetting scripts, giving workshops, even directing new
plays.
The Factory stumbled from crisis to crisis, gaining critical stature
and a reliable audience along the way. When LIP grants dumped
large sums of money into alternative theatres in 1972, the Factory
responded with a remarkable string of successes, by such writers as
Larry Fineberg, Michael Hollingsworth, Louis Del Grande (later of
TV's Seeing Things), George Walker, and Gass himself. It even
started paying its employees regularly. But to anyone from the
Factory (Walker included), success was never without irony. The
company nearly collapsed in 1973, in 1977, and several times since.
Just two months ago, new rumours of the Factory's death appeared
in the Toronto press. We can only hope that they are greatly
exaggerated. Otherwise, where will the next George Walker come
from?
Denis Johnston teaches Canadian theatre history at U.B.C. His
book on Toronto's alternative theatres, Swimming Up the
Mainstream, is due to be published this fall.
First Productions of Walker's Plays
Year
Title
Company
Director
1971
The Prince of Naples
Factory Lab
Paul Bettis
1971
Ambush at Tether's End
Factory Lab
Ken Gass
1972
Sacktown Rag
Factory Lab
Ken Gass
1973
Bagdad Saloon
Factory Lab
Eric Steiner
1974
Demerit (unpublished)
Factory Lab
Ken Gass
1974
Beyond Mozambique
Factory Lab
Eric Steiner
(Revived 1978)
Factory Lab
George F. Walker
1976
Ramona and the
White Slaves
Factory Lab
George F. Walker
1977
Gossip
Toronto Free
John Palmer
1977
ZASTROZZI
Toronto Free
William Lane
1979
Filthy Rich
Toronto Free
William Lane
1980
Rumours of Our Death
Factory Lab
George F. Walker
1981
Theatre of the Film Noir
Factory Lab
George F. Walker
1982
Science and Madness
Tarragon
William Lane
1983
The Art of War
Factory Lab
George F. Walker
1984
Criminals in Love
Factory Lab
George F. Walker
1986
Better Living
Centre Stage
Bill Glassco
1987
Beautiful City
Factory Lab
George F. Walker
1988
Nothing Sacred
Centre Stage
Bill Glassco

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