Sunday, November 05, 2006

Colin Thomas interviews LIFE AFTER GOD playwright

Life After God born again
By colin thomas
Georgia Straight, Oct 26 2006

Michael Lewis MacLennan adapts Douglas Coupland’s tale to the stage.

Playwright Michael Lewis Mac Lennan is a Christian, although he finds it hard to admit. That, and his considerable skill, might make him the perfect guy to adapt the title story in Douglas Coup land’s Life After God for the stage.

Life After God is about overcoming irony and risking the embarrassment that can accompany spiritual and emotional need. Its characters are all privileged young adults who grew up in a state of narcissistic bliss on Vancouver’s North Shore. Fifteen years after they graduate from high school, Scout, the protagonist, goes off his antidepressants and starts to fall apart. His five friends are experiencing troubles of their own—with alcohol, drugs, sex, and boredom. Stacey, for example, drinks and says God is in the teeth of the man who fucked her the night before.

MacLennan, who also has a home in Toronto, speaks on the phone from his apartment in Los Angeles. His packed curriculum vitae features award-winning plays (Grace, The Shooting Stage, Last Romantics) and credits as a producer and writer on the television series Godiva’s and Queer As Folk. This new adaptation, which is being coproduced by Touchstone Theatre and Theatre at UBC, runs at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts from Wednesday (November 1) until November 11 before moving to the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, November 15 to 25.

“I have horrible memories of going to see plays that were adaptations of novels,” MacLennan begins. “So often, the bone structure was the bone structure of a novel and it just didn’t work.” MacLennan loved Coupland’s story when it was published in 1994. He says the tale isn’t inherently the stuff of drama, however: “One of the weaknesses, I suppose, is that Scout is so front-and-centre. Some of the other characters have maybe five or six lines of dialogue.” MacLennan has developed longer interactive scenes and organized them along a new backbone: all of the characters are moving toward a 15-year high-school reunion.

The climactic image has stayed the same, though: Scout wanders deep into the woods, where he immerses himself in a freezing mountain stream.

MacLennan has a clear idea of how Scout got there. The opening image of his play borrows heavily from Coupland. Scout and his friends float mindlessly in a blood-warm swimming pool: “Back then, we never talked about ideas or the meaning of life. We didn’t need to: we lived in paradise.”

MacLennan sees this golden youth as a handicap of sorts. “If we don’t have a relationship with ourselves that has developed through adversity, through suffering, through pain, then we don’t have the equipment to see ourselves through hard times.”

In Scout’s world, however, the forest is a place of healing. “I think there is something restorative about nature,” MacLennan offers. “It is sort of the temple that people go to in Vancouver. For a lot of people, certainly these guys, that’s the spiritual discipline they grew up with: they went camping.”

Of Scout’s chilly final dunking, MacLennan says: “I think he needs engagement in his own life and the lives of the people around him. He needs to be reborn. He kind of needs to be born because in a way he’s still floating around in that amniotic fluid. The end image is one of baptism, but it’s one of frigid water. It’s cold. That’s the thing that will wake him up.”

MacLennan’s own immersion in faith began six years ago when a friend invited him to a service at Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church. Now he attends every week when he’s in town.

Although identifying himself as Christian raises fears of being labelled a fundamentalist, MacLennan reveals: “The tenets of Christianity are about transformation through love. The messages are so simple and yet so challenging — at least to me.” He goes on: “Things that happened in my life growing up didn’t make it feel very safe for me to feel loving to people. So my default is a kind of protective detachment. The things that attract me to spirituality have the benefit of encouraging me to be more generous, more open, more playful—things that my soul wants and things that I’ve almost had to relearn.”

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