Canadian playwright/filmmaker Colleen Murphy’s plays thrive on violence and controversy and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
The two-time Governor-General Award winner has sparked provocative discussions across the country. One that comes to mind is Pig Girl, a play that graphically explores serial killer Robert Pickton’s murderous spree of women. Another is The December Man, a look at the fallout from the shooting spree at Montreal’s Ă©cole Polytechnique.
As Murphy completes her three-year playwright-in-residence stint at the University of Alberta, she once again touches off discussion with the world premiere of Bright Burning (I Hope My Heart Burns First) opening Thursday, March 30 at the Timms Centre for the Arts.
As with past plays, Bright Burning examines the suffering of people in the fringes. Six economically disadvantaged 20-somethings break into a mansion determined to steal stuff to pay off a drug debt.
As their initially simple grab-and-go plan disintegrates, they are faced with confronting the misery in their dead-end lives and complete sense of futility.
“The idea came from a story I’d read about ghost parties. In America, a group of young kids would break into a house that was staged for sale or people were on vacation. They would trash the house and then leave. The police caught the kids after they took hundreds of selfies and posted them,” said Murphy.
“Violence for violence’s sake has no interest for me. I started to look at the idea of disparity between the poor and rich and how it’s grown and what it means to young people.”
She neither creates victims nor wags a finger at the audience. Murphy is simply interested in people’s struggles and writes the kind of shows she enjoys – plays that make her laugh, cry and be moved or shaken.
By bringing together the polarizing extremes of poverty and wealth, she hopes to provoke a necessary discussion.
St. Albert actor Alexandra Dawkins, one of the 12 Bachelor of Fine Arts graduating students in the show, tackles Lou, a rough character heavily dependent on drugs.
Lou has been shuffled in foster care since age three and was released from jail six months ago after serving a sentence for breaking and entering. She works part-time at a low-end job to support her drug habit and maintains her dreams by volunteering at a dog shelter.
“She has no foundation of support. Life to her is a survival game and to find dignity where and when you can,” said Dawkins, who prepared for her role by researching autism, drugs, prisons, the legal system as well as the Criminal Code of Canada.
“The way the Criminal Code is written is very archaic. It’s very concrete, very harsh and very real. It gets very specific and if you’re caught, you’re caught, especially if you are underprivileged and don’t have a network to support you.”
So when Lou and her friends break into the house, they are psychologically unprepared for the massive wealth that hits them.
“They live in pain every day, but it gets normalized. They don’t think about the other world where people have so much stuff and do nothing to earn it. It’s such a suffocating shock.”
However, despite the dark material, Dawkins adds there is a great deal of humour in the piece.
“It’s because it’s so extreme. The humour happens when they come up with wacky solutions and they make fun of each other despite how jarring it is.”
Bright Burning (I Hope My Heart Burns First)
March 30 to April 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Timms Centre for the Arts
87 Ave. and 112 St.
Tickets $12 to $25 at door