Many plays have been adapted for present day’s stage and screen, but award winning playwright Carolyn Gray’s adaptation of Molière’s 1668 satire The Miser is a little more Winnipeg-centric than most.
The Miser of Middlegate is the third in the local playwright’s Winnipeg trilogy (following The Elmwood Visitation and North Main Gothic) and finds Nicholas Rice (Angels in America) in the title role - a man who attempts to get his wife back while sabotaging his daughter’s upcoming wedding. One of many collaborations with director Krista Jackson, Gray’s piece is a love letter to the screwball comedies of the 1940s.
“For this play I just thought of what makes me laugh,” Gray says. “It was a really freeing experience. I thought ‘I’m not going to try to teach any lesson or impose anything at all, just to write a play that I think is hilarious.’”
Gray and Jackson collaborated on the adaptation process with writer Bruce McManus as dramaturge and apprentice dramaturge Casey Shapira every Saturday morning over coffee, which the playwright found crucial to the adaptation process.
“They were the best dramaturgical experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. “Everyone had done this massive amount of research, knew the play backwards and forwards. We were just chill, we chatted and the play has turned out in the strongest way possible because of those conversations.”
As someone who has worked in various aspects of theatre, Gray says she has no problem separating herself once her job as writer is complete.
“We workshopped it with the cast just before we began rehearsal,” the playwright says. “Krista said ‘you can come back any time’ I said ‘I’d rather see you on opening night.’”
It’s that type of focus that helps Gray move from project to project - the next of which is a theatrical piece based on the life of the recently named “World’s Most Daring Escape Artist”, Winnipegger Dean Gunnarson.*
“He did the the magic effects on the Elmwood Visitation and we became friends,” Gray says of what will eventually become Escape. “He recently asked me to write about one of the most important things that ever happened to him. I’ve done my Winnipeg trilogy, now I’m going rural and I’m writing the story of Dean Gunnarson.”
It’s these Winnipeg stories that keep her moving and the audiences returning. But there are always naysayers.
“People tell me ‘you’re never gonna get anywhere if you write about Winnipeg’ and maybe they’re right,” she says with a laugh. Gray’s been in Winnipeg most of her life, but between stints in New York and Vancouver, she is a Winnipegger through and through.
“Winnipeg’s a good place to be. It’s good to leave and good to come back.”
*This writer may or may not have had a signed poster of Gunnarson on his childhood bedroom wall.