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Monday March 29, 2010 in Books
Two-time Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Morris Panych has done with What Lies Before Us the almost unthinkable: he has turned Waiting for Godot into a comedy while simultaneously heightening rather than minimizing the profound existential questions it asks. But this play is no mere parody of a theatre classic, nor is it a “history play.” The roots of Panych’s comedy extend to the confrontation of Shakespeare’s “rude mechanicals” with their “educated betters,” and to the fundamentally and hilariously irreconcilable differences between the world views of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
The English Mr. Keating and the Scottish Mr. Ambrose are assistant surveyors camped in the Rocky Mountains with Mr. Wing, their Chinese coolie, starving as they wait for “the Major,” an American adventurer, to show up and lead their railroad survey party in the nation-building enterprise called Canada. Of course, the Major never shows up, leaving the rude and uneducated Keating and the disillusioned and highly schooled Ambrose to engage in an increasingly absurd hair-splitting and sidesplitting dialogue about the meaning of life, and both of them utterly frustrated in their ongoing attempts to communicate with Wing, who speaks only Cantonese. Heightening our sense of the darkly comic is that we know things are not going to end well: Keating is dying of rabies he got from a squirrel bite, and Ambrose is about to succumb to a gangrenous broken leg, which no one can quite bring himself to cut off. Functioning as both a comic foil to Keating and Ambrose, and an incomprehensible chorus to the audience (unless it understands Cantonese), Wing is about to have the last word. Finally understood, translated into English through a trick of stagecraft, Wing’s final speech completely inverts the play with a devastatingly poignant version of the events we have just witnessed.
ISBN 13: 9780889225602 | ISBN 10: 889225605
6 W x 9 H inches | 96 pages
$15.95 CAN / $15.95 US
Backlist | Drama | Bisac: DRA000000
QUOTES OF NOTE
“Morris Panych is … neurotic, intemperate, ambitious, talented, funny, feared, beloved … and altogether impossible to ignore.”
— Toronto Life
“Panych neatly balances existential questions with funny dialogue and pleasingly absurd characters.”
— Canadian Literature
Finalist for the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama
About the ContributorsMorris Panych
Playwright, actor and director Morris Panych has been described as “a man for all seasons in Canadian theatre.” He has appeared in over fifty theatre productions and in numerous television and film roles. He has directed more than ninety productions and written over a dozen plays that have been translated and produced throughout the world. He has twice won the Governor General’s Award and has won the Jessie Richardson Theatre Award fourteen times for acting and directing. He has also been nominated six times for Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Award and three times for the Chalmers Award. His classic 7 Stories ranks 9th among the ten best selling plays in Canada, outselling the Coles version of Romeo & Juliet.
We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts; the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF); and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council for our publishing activities.