Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Colleen Murphy

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Colleen Murphy

Governor General's Literary Award winning playwright Colleen Murphey has returned with The Goodnight Bird (Playwrights Canada Press), first staged in London, England.

The Goodnight Bird examines themes of complacency and love, the urban and the wild and aging.

Today Colleen speaks with Open Book about her newest play, the relationship between the natural world and the city and a love of actors.

Open Book:

Tell us about your play, The Goodnight Bird.

Colleen Murphy:

This is a play about an older couple, Lilly and Morgan Beaumont, who are living comfortably in a dull marriage until a homeless man, Parker, lands on the balcony of their new condo. After scaring the couple half to death, the man pours himself into the holes of their relationship, agitating them with talk of sex — talk that drives Lilly out into the night with Parker and sends Morgan on the road to another heart attack. It’s a comedy about old love and new courage.


The character of Parker is a catalyst in the play. How did he come into being for you? What challenges and opportunities do you think he offers Lilly and Morgan?


I once visited friends who lived in a fine apartment/condo on Bloor Street East, just above Rosedale Valley Road. The whole time I was there, I kept thinking that someone dirty and angry was going to burst in. A lot of lost people live down in the ravine — what if one of them were so lost and so sad that they went right up to the top of my friend’s building just so that they could jump off. And what if they landed on my friend’s balcony and it turned out that he or she wasn’t so lost? What if they had enough strength to affect another person’s life? These things go through my head all the time.

Parker inadvertently offers Lilly and Morgan a chance to ponder — if only for a moment — what their lives have meant, and from those thoughts the couple begins to reach for something beyond themselves. It’s temporary, I’m sure…but how often do we long for those moments of clarity.


There are both urban elements in the story, like the couple's condo, and natural elements, like the city ravines. How do you view this urban/natural tension? Is it fair to say we see that tension reflected in the characters?


I grew up in Northern Ontario so I see cities as structures pressed on top of the natural world, but I also see how the natural world shapes the way a city is built. There is a constant tension between the two forces — always will be — but nature will out. Even if it is only manifested by little tiny blades of grass growing up through the concrete sidewalk, or by raccoons taking over the garbage collection — nature will out because it is very strong.

I would hesitate to suggest that a homeless person living in the ravine reflects the natural world or that a couple living in a condo reflects the urban one. The characters are more complex than that and the real tension of the play comes from the collision of their intentions.


What was your process for this project? Do you tend to work alone or do you find it helpful to have readings or workshops of the play while working?


I prefer writing alone as much as possible and for as long as possible. Sometimes I wish I could be a novelist but I love actors too much to ever stop writing plays.


What shows have you seen in Toronto that you found most interesting? Are there any current or recent shows you would recommend to our readers?


I would recommend that everyone see a play one week because there is a lot of good theatre in Toronto and if people do not go and see it, it will die, and if theatre dies, the world will die.


What are you working on now?


A small play called Snow Red, a big play called O’Brien Road and a short film script entitled Bloodsucker Waltz and another play.

Colleen Murphy has served as the Canadian playwright-in-residence at Finborough Theatre in London, England where three of her plays were produced in the spring of 2011. She has been Guest Playwright at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton since 2010 and was Playwright in Residence at Factory Theatre in Toronto in 2011/12. The December Man (L’homme de décembre) won the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama, the CAA/Carol Bolt Award and the Enbridge Playwrights Award. Other plays include Beating Heart Cadaver (nominated for a 1999 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama), The Piper, Down in Adoration Falling and All Other Destinations are Cancelled. She is also an award-winning filmmaker.

For more information about The Goodnight Bird please visit the Playwrights Canada Press website.

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Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

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