Despite my considerable body of poetry, I regard myself essentially as a dramatist. I experience the world as a dynamic interplay between opposing forces: hot/cold, positive/negative, male/female, electron/proton, good/evil – there are innumerable forms of antithetical forces. Everything that exists is a product of the perpetual tension between opposites. If either side were ever to win out over the other, the world would instantly cease to exist. It’s therefore not surprising, though I was not aware of it at the time, that the first serious literary work I attempted was a play I wrote at the age of 17. Years later the Canadian poet Wilfred Watson said to me: Henry, you’re a born dramatist. All your poems are written for different voices. This insight was slow to dawn on me.
Conflict is the heart of drama, and the playwright must be able to identify with the paradoxical nature of things. The lyrical and the dramatic modes are not irreconcilable. The best playwrights, like Shakespeare, Chekhov and Sophocles, combine action and reflection in their work, thus giving depth and scope to the theatrical experience. I was fortunate, recently, to be able to work on a play that called for a dynamic combination of the two modes when James Richardson of ThirdWall Theatre commissioned me to prepare a modern version of Sophocles’ Antigone. It was a thrilling challenge that allowed me to give full play to the two sides of my nature.
Another necessity for the playwright is a close and living contact with the stage and theatre. In the rural environment where I lived for over 30 years I found poems came more naturally to me than plays. But whenever I lived in the city I got involved in theatre, and my dramatic output reflects these changes. Since moving to Ottawa five years ago, I have written the text for two full-length plays. I am currently working on a new play about Faust, that incarnation of what is most creative and most destructive in us.
List of plays
INOOK AND THE SUN 1973 Premiere: August 1, 1973, Stratford Shakespeare FestivalDirector: Jean Herbiet(This is unquestionably my most successful play, having been translated and performed in many countries.); SKINFLINT 1969; SALVADOR 1972; FOR CRYING OUT LOUD 1974; IMPROVISATIONS FOR MR X 1974; GOYA 1976; UNDER COYOTE'S EYE 1978; HOSTAGES 1983; THE NOOSE 1985.
Translations & Adaptations
THE DOUBLE TAKE by Luigi Pirandello, 1958; THE INSEPARABLE by Walter Bauer, 1959; THE CURVE by Tankred Dorst, 1963; A TRUMPET FOR NAP by Tankred Dorst, 1963; GRAND TIRADE AT THE TOWN WALL by Tancred Dorst 1970; WAITING FOR GAUDREAULT by André Simard, 1978 (co-translator: Arlette Francière); ARE YOU AFRAID OF THIEVES by Louis-Dominique Lavigne, 1978; THE EMIGRANTS by Slawomir Mrozek, 1981; HEDDA GABLER by Henrik Ibsen, 1982; ALL CORPSES ARE EQUAL and SACRIFICES by Shie Min, 1987 (co-translator: Jia-Lin Peng); THE GLASS MOUNTAIN by Tor Åge Bringsvaerd, 1990 (co-translator: per Brask); PEER GYNT by Henrik Ibsen, 2009; ANTIGONE by Sophocles, 2011.