Wedding Day at the Cromagnons was a watershed production for me.
At Theatre Passe Muraille I read new scripts every day but rarely glimpsed what I was looking for: originality, poetry, anger. Then one day translator Shelley Tepperman gave me Wedding Day. I wanted to stage it instantly. I had a growing need to talk about war and refugees and politics in my stage work. I loved the fantastical story – a family prepares a wedding for a bride who sleeps under the sink, in a city that is being bombed, with a bridegroom who is non-existent but arrives anyway, like Death. Or Christ. The writer was a complete unknown in English-speaking Canada, a Francophone from Lebanon, who’d fled from war-torn Beirut. His name was Wajdi Mouawad.
Now Wajdi is world famous but even then he was so fervent, so confident. I wanted the play to appear in a metaphorical space and eventually Sue Lepage arrived and gave me exactly what I wanted: a white space that allowed the characters to vomit out the war that was inside them. My cast was so committed: Alon Nashman who played the lead; Arsinee Khanjian, venturing on the stage for the first time, staggering asleep on stilts; Diana Fajrajsl, with whom I made two previous shows; the inimitable Earl Pastko; Beverley Wolfe; Robert Kennedy.
Theatre Passe Muraille was fully committed, too, thanks to our intrepid Artistic Producer Susan Serran.
Just before we opene), Wajdi said to me that either the critics will love it and raise it to the skies or they will smash into the ground. The critics wrote the worst reviews I’ve ever seen. They slammed his play so thoroughly in 1996 that I found myself thinking: okay, I can’t work in Canada, nobody here understands what’s important to me. Two years later I moved to Latvia.
Now Wajdi is one of the most acclaimed living Canadian theatre artists. Looks like Canada — or at least the theatre critics — came around.