For one of the country’s most acclaimed and produced authors, Joan MacLeod is also one of its most invisible.
Her latest triumph is Another Home Invasion, which opened at the Tarragon Theatre last week.
It joins previous stunning one-person shows like The Shape of a Girl, Jewel and The Hope Slide.
But MacLeod chooses to live quietly on the West Coast, writing her plays as the spirit moves her, not caring how much or how little time passes between each new work.
“I love returning to the purity of one voice, one story,” she said softly on the phone from her Victoria home.
“When it works, it’s a fantastic form. I come from a literary background and when it all happens on the page for me, there’s something magical about it.”
The characters in her plays range from teens to seniors, but the developmental process, she insisted, remains the same.
“I start working the way I always do, developing a character, developing a voice.”
In the case of Another Home Invasion, it was a very distinct persona that she started to explore.
“I focused in on a woman in her 80s who was pissed off and didn’t know why.”
She fed her characterization with a story she found in the news about a senior couple from the Kootenays who were separated because of health care issues and then one night, on TV, she stumbled on the random element that made the pieces of her vision start to click together.
“It was footage of a bait car. The kind they construct to attract thieves, but once they’re inside, they can’t get out of it.”
MacLeod’s voice filled with horror as she recollected the pictures she saw.
“A meth addict had tried to steal the car and when he realized he was trapped, he went completely out of his mind, just like a wild animal.”
You have to pause for a moment here and recall the job experience MacLeod had back in the late 1970s when she served as a social worker with the mentally challenged.
It left her with a strong sense of right and wrong about our system and also put her firmly on the side of the disenfranchised in all that she writes.
For Another Home Invasion, she thought “about the seniors in our society and how we’re not serving them well on any level.”
And so she took all these fragments that had been floating around in her conscience and created Jean.
“She’s being invaded on all sides, by the health-care system, by her children, by her husband’s illness. She’s trying desperately to hold on to her world.”
But then a young drug addict invades her home. “The woman is so full of compassion that she treats him simply as a human being,” said MacLeod. “When he first comes by at 5:30 in the afternoon, she never once thinks about not opening the door to him.”
What happens after that forms the spine of the play, but rather than dipping her resolution into the melodramatic or tragic, the resilient MacLeod said, “I think of the play ultimately as a love story.”
MacLeod allowed that “it’s sad, but it’s also very funny and I’d be surprised if anyone said it was bleak.’’