Eugene Stickland on playwriting, CNN and nudity

My testicles begin to defrost when beloved Calgary playwright Eugene Stickland jokingly promotes this year’s crop of plays going up at Alberta Theatre Projects’ playRites festival to our more reluctant readers. With a new play, All Clear, opening during the festival, Stickland is pulling out all the stops. Well, except the nude card. He quickly dashes the hopes of all who seek the boobies.

“I’ve actually never had nudity in a play of mine. I don’t care who it is or what you’re talking about, it becomes all about the nudity. You go see all these plays where there’s this supposedly hot scene between two people about to get it on,” Stickland explains. “The woman; maybe she’s ready, maybe she’s not, you can’t tell. But you see the guy and he’s shriveled down to nothing. How’s he going to do this? He needs those pills they keep sending advertisements for in my e-mail.

“But that’s not the big problem with male nudity on stage, because it’s illegal to show ‘it’ on stage in Canada. So, even if you wanted to, even if you had an actor who could somehow stand backstage, read Maxim and get himself going, assuming he can keep it going, that he could walk on stage with a cold draft going and his grandma there, he’d be breaking the law. You can’t do it.”

In all the years I’ve known Sticky (as I like to call him), these bizarre tangents are expected. Late and cold, I take a seat at his back corner table inside Kensington’s Higher Ground. Blonde locks splay proudly about Eugene’s head, more fitting for a faded champion surfer than award-winning playwright. Actually, he looks like an Iggy Pop who’s discovered the turtleneck.

The bastard looks smug with warmth, finger protruding out of Charlie Brown mittens, cradling a coffee mug. Between the meetings and rehearsals in his hectic day, Eugene spares a moment to chat with a former student about his new play for playRites, All Clear.

Mostly known for his offbeat comedies like Some Assembly Required and A Guide to Mourning, this new play is a chance for Eugene to do something different.

“It’s a very strange play, especially for me,” he says. “It’s not a comedy. It feels a little more, and I usually don’t like this word, but it feels more experimental. I never know if these thing work. When we did my play Appetite, someone wrote a note that said: ‘this is terrible; for a good play go to Stratford, Ontario.’ Well, sorry. I’m not Shakespeare, asshole.”

Regardless, it’s obvious Eugene is proud of this play and hopes it impacts the people attending the playRites festival.

“The writing is very poetic, without being wanky. This is more like my response to world events. There’s two ways you can look at it: you can either escape into mindless entertainment, or you can actually look at the world and confront it,” he explains. “I was sitting in a hotel, working on a second draft of that play, I didn’t have any music or anything so I had the TV on as a diversion. CNN was on, and this was back when Bush was flexing his muscles about Iraq, before the war. I just started to think, what if there was an attack? What if this code orange, in this case, wasn’t bullshit? What if there some bombs aimed at a city like Calgary?

“Interestingly enough, I wrote this one scene where they duct tape themselves into the house and the next day I read in the Globe and Mail that, in the Midwest of the United States, the home hardwares had run out of duct tape. People were hoarding it and I was like, maybe I’m on the right track here.”

This may be Eugene’s last year at ATP, as his residency is soon ending, but he’s feeling good about everything. And why shouldn’t he? All Clear is shaping up to be one of his best works, he’s hard at work on his first novel, and he plans to go back to his roots, doing more guerilla theatre.

I guess ads don’t lie, those penis enlargement pills really do work.

All Clear is part of the ATP playRites Festival and runs Feb. 14 to Mar 7. Visit http://www.atplive.com for more info. Tickets can be purchased at the ATP Box Office (294-7402) and at Ticketmaster.

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