Young writers are told to create based on what they know.
Playwright Thelon Oeming's taken that advice, using his Parkdale community as the source for Lullaby, the tale of a couple who buy and renovate a house in the neighbourhood and get involved with an older man who used to live in the area. Their interaction is sometimes comic, sometimes dark.
Oeming's skill with dialogue impressed us when we saw a reading of the script in SummerWorks 2004.
"I moved into Parkdale about five years ago, and it was an awakening for me," recalls the writer. "It's one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in the city, a mix of cultures and classes, and I've seen how many of us pre-judge people we think to be on the fringe of society."
That's the case with Kenny, the working-class guy who enters the lives of yuppies Looch and Leandra. Moving into their basement apartment, he tries to get close to the couple and finds they react to him in different ways.
"At some level the pair resist getting emotionally involved with him and thus deny his humanity. But in doing so, they're also denying their own humanity."
The show, presented by Dark Horse Theatre, gets a site-specific staging at Queen West store Simone Interiors. The idea of a non-theatrical venue began, ironically, when the company sought a theatre and found the Poor Alex and Artword Theatre were closing. The scarcity of rental spaces echoes what happens in the play.
"We decided to do the play on our own terms and, since it's inspired by life in Parkdale and is set there, it made sense to stage it there. The market was so hot, though, that no one would rent us a house or an empty storefront unless we paid thousands of dollars a month. We finally discovered a store owner who would take the chance on us."
Despite the theme of gentrification and what it does to current residents of a community, Oeming says the play isn't centrally about displacement.
"I've just used gentrification to give a context for the story. I'm more interested in how these characters come together, how their different views of life lead to conflict, rather than the security that they all want."
Like your plays straight from the horse's mouth, as it were? Playwrights Canada Press holds a launch of recent books on Tuesday (November 6) in the NOW Lounge, featuring two writers nominated for this year's Governor General's Award in drama.
Salvatore Antonio (In Gabriel's Kitchen) and Colleen Murphy (The December Man) are among the seven playwrights offering selections from their works. They're joined by Keith Roulston (Powers And Gloria), Yvette Nolan (Annie Mae's Movement), Leon Aureus (Banana Boys), Robert Fothergill (Public Lies And Other Plays) and Judith Thompson (The Palace Of The End, which Canadian Stage presents in January).
Also on the evening's bill is the presentation of this year's Herbert Whittaker Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre. The Canadian Theatre Critics Association gives the award, and the recipient also reads.