ONE GOOD MARRIAGE by Sean Reycraft, directed by Shari Hollett, with Jeff Miller and Mary Francis Moore. Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). Previews tonight (Thursday January 22), opens January 23 and runs to February 15, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $23-$32, preview and Sunday pwyc-$16. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
If you want to know where sean Reycraft gets his dark sense of humour, consider where he grew up - the small town of Glencoe, Ontario, halfway between Chatham and London, in a house smack dab in the middle of a T intersection. "We would wake up at 1 or 2 in the morning after a car ran into our house when the driver passed out or fell asleep at the wheel," chuckles the playwright. "We'd think, 'Oh, another car.' That was part of growing up. Cars will hit your house. We never thought it was strange.
"And we never thought about moving."
This kind of morbid, absurd sensibility - think Six Feet Under in southwestern Ontario - runs through his work, especially One Good Marriage, a huge hit at the SummerWorks 2002 fest and revived this week at Theatre Passe Muraille.
A grimly funny tale about newlyweds who've experienced a recent tragedy (to say more would ruin the firecracker surprises), the show came about after Reycraft did some time in L.A.
Isolated from family and friends, not writing and in a faltering relationship, he left la-la land to return to Toronto in November 2001 and began work on the two-hander. He had heard about a cave-in at an Indian wedding ceremony and had read part of a book about a couple who cleaned up dead bodies.
"I wondered what it was like to combine elation and tragedy, and the effects so much death would have on a couple," says the writer best known to theatre audiences for his Chalmers Award-winning play Pop Song.
What he came up with was a script about a socially isolated couple who address the audience, finishing each other's sentences and interrupting their tale with humorous asides and pleasantries, withholding the full details of their horrific story until the end.
"I've always wanted to write a really good one-person show, but I tend to hate them," he says in his characteristic stop-and-start manner, nursing a pint.
"This for me is my way of doing that. I've always felt weird about direct address - it's often confessional, open-wound stuff.
"Then I saw that Irish play The Weir at World Stage. It was so simple, a bunch of five guys in a bar telling ghost stories. It showed me that you can get away with it."
He wrote the play with two actors in mind - Jeff Miller and Mary Francis Moore, who along with director Shari Hollett return from the SummerWorks production.
"After L.A., I wanted to have an excuse to have fun, drink beer and hang out with people I liked. Jeff and Mary Francis are so nice, open, and they're probably the best storytellers I know. They just go. Quiet writer that I am, I just sat in the bar and laughed.
"Jeff's voice is a lot like mine. Mary Francis has this very pleasant and nice tone, but at the same time there's this edge. She's got this Thunder Bay thing there mixed with a sophisticated city girl."
Reycraft partly attributes his sensitivity to the niceties of small-town life - including rituals like marriage - and to being gay and hence an outsider.
"Growing up, you have a secret, and in small-town culture secrets aren't brought to the surface," he explains. "You talk about the weather, what's on TV, sports clubs. You never discuss emotions, feelings, the stuff buried beneath the pitter-patter. As an outsider, you can watch these crazy people try to lead their lives."
Much of the play's tension comes from withholding details, suggesting rather than telling. That could never happen on TV, where Reycraft spends most of his time these days in shows like The Eleventh Hour, where he's a writer and story editor, and Degrassi: The Next Generation.
"If you put a show like this on TV, someone would get five minutes into it, not know what the story was and change the channel," he says. "With TV, people don't want to be challenged. They're impatient."
Not that Reycraft is about to give up the electronic medium.
"My plays are about my voice and telling the stories I want to tell, but on The Eleventh Hour we've been able to tackle great storylines," he offers. "This year I have a script about child pornography and a piece inspired by a Stephen Glass-type character. It's pretty weighty stuff.
"The only thing," he adds, "is my sense of humour. I constantly get notes that I'm being too glib. They keep telling me glib doesn't work on TV."