It's one day before THE ORANGE DOT opens at Crows' Theatre and Sean Dixon is on his way to his play's final preview. We speak as he walks to the theatre.
Dixon is an acclaimed and internationally successful novelist and playwright, who began writing in 1991. THE ORANGE DOT is anticipated for good reason: Dixon's last play in Toronto, the critically acclaimed A GOD IN NEED OF HELP was short-listed for a Governor General's award. He describes the new play as its companion piece.
THE ORANGE DOT has had a long genesis: you might say an ancient one.
The idea came to Dixon back in 2012. Initially, he planned to write a play as a reaction/response to Harold Pinter's THE DUMB WAITER: a challenge (and a commission) set out for him by THEATREFRONT artistic director, Vikki Anderson.
"Before my mother died, she was in the hospital for a long while. I spent a lot of time with her there. While she slept, I read The EPIC of GILGAMESH. Do you know it?"
I've heard of it, I tell him, but I have never read it. My bad.
"It's considered the world's first book," he tells me. "The Sumerians had a massive, well-developed culture in what is now Northern Iraq." That much I knew from a long-ago visit to the British Museum, where there's a spectacular display of cultural artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia. "Gilgamesh is a Sumerian text. It dates to 1800 BC, about 1000 year before the Old Testament was written. In one of the stories, a goddess takes a tree and floats it down a flooded river because she wants to sleep in its branches. "
There is something inherently matriarchal about a tree: its roots drawing from and nurturing the earth, its lofty arms variously offering shelter, challenge, and embrace. "You know that silver maple on Roncesvalles? Outside the church? The big one? The silver maple? That's near my house. It's one of the oldest trees in city: it's over a hundred years old. In my mind, that's the tree in the story."
So the tree is a character? "Oh yes: there's a tree and two actors. It's a character-driven piece. I love the collaborative aspect of working with the company. It's been fun to hand the story over to the actors and to Vikki and watch them take it over and make it their own."
Dixon is in good company: his two-hander is being played by renowned actor Shawn Doyle making a return to the stage, and Daniela Vlaskalic, who created and toured nationally in the acclaimed DROWNING GIRLS.
"He's (Joe, the character played by Doyle) is a regular guy with a hidden emotional life. She ( Natalie, Vlaskalic's character) has just come back to work after the death of her mother. They work for the city as arborists. They are waiting by this tree for a piece of equipment that's stuck in traffic. They're killing time: hanging out with their phones, chatting, waiting to take the tree down."
Dixon has arrived at the theatre: our time is up. From our conversation I can guarantee you two things about his new play: you'll have a lot to talk about afterwards, and you'll probably learn something you didn't know. For me, those are always two good reasons to check out a show.
THE ORANGE DOT written by Sean Dixon and produced by THEATREFRONT continues at Streetcar Crowsnest Guloien Theatre until April 1, 2017. To book tickets or for further information go to: www.theatrefront.com