University play burns with absurdity

By David Kenney

With Star Wars, George Lucas began his epic in the middle. University of Calgary playwright Alan Boss skipped the intro, jolted past the middle and began with the end. Twenty-four hours later, Boss had a play.

"I knew the ending that I wanted and I created the characters in mind but I didn’t know what I was going to write," says Boss about his play, My Burning Bush. "There was no real preconceived idea as to why I used the items that I did."

Conceived at the 1997 Montréal International Fringe Festival during a 24-hour playwriting competition, My Burning Bush plays Jan. 30-Feb. 2 at the Reeve Theatre Secondary. Set in a bizarre world, the play involves the desires of characters Shelly (Jenny Repond) and Peter (David Van Belle). Oh, and it’s about chairs, locations and cheeses.

"The play is kind of absurdist; absurdist in almost a Monty Python way," says the U of C PhD student, citing British playwright Harold Pinter as an inspiration. "The characters are concerned with certain things, but [they’re] not rational."

Part of the oddity in My Burning Bush includes the aforementioned locations, chairs and cheeses. Boss says he wasn’t so interested in the three specifically, but the way they sound.

"I was really playing with words as a writer," says Boss. "I was trying to think of the musicality of our language and the rhythm and the interesting rhythms that come into our language when we speak."

While he risked insomnia to write the 40-minute play, Boss says he isn’t surprised at the shape of the play. As a writer, he finds he works well with characters, dialogue and structure regardless of circumstance. Deadlines aren’t a problem, since he once directed a 24-hour deadline play for Out of our Heads Theatre with little to work with.

"It was great, I sat with the writer most of the night while she was writing it all but we were bouncing ideas off each other," says Boss. "Directing in that short of time isn’t directing as much as it is being the audience and letting the actors do the best work that they can."

While he’s not directing this time around, Boss is looking forward to seeing how the actors interpret his short production.

"I love short pieces and I’ve got a whole collection of short plays that I’ve written," he says. "A short piece can develop a life on its own; a long piece you have to breathe life into it. With a short story every word has to be perfect and that word is in that specific place for a reason."

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