Writer in Residence

Storylines

By Ken Murray

“All kinds of storylines are playing out here.” Question: This quote is most likely to be heard from...

(a) A TV journalist reporting on a political or legal case?
(b) A football commentator?
(c) A book reviewer?
(d) A writer in a writing workshop?

For my money, (a) & (b) are the most likely choices. It’s a reporter’s job to put narrative onto the world, imposing a recognizable template of order on top of chaos, and it’s a sportscaster’s job to create drama and sell advertising.

But, funny enough, in literary circles, we’re less likely to talk about stories, and sometimes we don’t create drama.

Yet drama is our job, on the page anyway.

When we neglect storytelling, the dominant truism “story isn’t everything” has corrupted into “story doesn’t matter at all,” and that is sad, because story matters. The problem starts when the writer, dedicated to nuance and style, forgets their job to keep a reader in tow, in thrall, and wanting to know how it all turns out.

A few nights ago I saw Raoul Bhaneja’s brilliant rendering of Hamlet (Solo), presented by Festival Players of Prince Edward County at the Drake Devonshire in Wellington, Ontario.

Though this show is now ten years old, it had fallen under my radar, and I went knowing nothing about the production. I expected a certain amount of camp , some sort of entertaining self-parody by the actor in the face of such a major challenge.

I was so pleased to be wrong. Bhaneja delivered the play with verve and commitment, inhabiting the characters without inhibition, be they Claudius, Ophelia, Laertes or the Danish Prince himself.

Afterward, I couldn’t sleep. The power of the story was alive, the characters running through me. No surprise this, it was Hamlet after all.

But how often do productions of great plays fail to deliver the stories that made them great? Every theatregoer has had a bad experience this way. I remember a staging of Macbeth twenty years ago during which I began to hope that the witches would break the fourth wall and come down into the audience to poison me so I wouldn’t have to watch the rest of it. The whole production was heavily stylized in its staging and, in the end, the audience was asked to be in awe of the presentation, with little regard to the story.

Yet, Hamlet (Solo), with a single actor committed to all the characters, with no staging except his characterizations and nothing in the way of conventional dramatic pacing besides a short intermission, brought the entire story across the stage in two hours, leaving me both in wonder of the performance, but also the characters and their struggles, which are the story.

I know the story of Hamlet more intimately because of this show, and I’m grateful. The storyteller did his job.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.


Ken Murray lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. He teaches creative writing at Haliburton School of the Arts and at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. He is a volunteer broadcaster in community radio and dabbles in several sports. Eulogy is his first novel. For more information visit http://www.kenmurray.ca.