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Daniel Thau-Eleff

Daniel Thau-Eleff's play at ShawFest

by Jane Enkin, January 3, 2 012

She acted in three of his plays. They went for bicycle rides together. He told her she was his “best and dearest love.” And then it was over. What happened between Florence Farr and George Bernard Shaw?
Now, things have gone topsy turvy. Florence has come back to Shaw's home after his death. She is conducting a séance, reading from his plays and reminiscing, hoping to invoke the spirit of George Bernard.
In a collage of historical fiction, Florence is finally going to tell it all.
Winnipeg playwright Daniel Thau-Eleff's latest work, My Affair with George Bernard, premieres with five staged readings this week as part of ShawFest, the 2012 Master Playwright Festival. Previous productions of Thau-Elef's work include King's Park and Remember the Night. For this show, he is enthusiastically working with “Winnipeg's leading lady, Doreen Brownstone” and local actor-playwright-director Ross McMillan.
Trained at the University of Manitoba and the Vancouver Voice Intensive, Ross McMillan has acted in theatre, film and television across Canada. McMillan's plays produced in Winnipeg include Washing Spider Out and Toby's Made Up Mind.
Doreen Brownstone has been a mainstay of Winnipeg theatre for decades, delighting audiences and inspiring fellow artists. She has been honoured with the National Canadian Actor's Equity Life Membership Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Manitoba ACTRA. Brownstone's notable performances in recent years include the roles of Albertine In Five Times and Yente in Fiddler on The Roof.
Here is my email interview with playwright Daniel Thau-Eleff:
How did you come to write an original play for this festival?
My Affair with George Bernard came out of a conversation between me and Rory Runnells, the Artistic Director of Manitoba Association of Playwrights (MAP). MAP participated in the festival last year, presenting an original Strindberg-inspired play by local playwright Ross McMillan, and they were looking for a way to participate in the festival again this year. We thought an original play about his love life would be fun, we both wanted to work with Doreen; I started thinking about a massive research project making reference to Shaw's personal life and his plays and making it my own. I saw it as such an ambitious project and so different from anything I'd done before that I wanted to give it a try. And as I wrote, it evolved from a monologue into a two-hander, which Doreen will be reading with Ross McMillan.
How did you first hear about Florence, and why did she interest you?
When I decided to take on the project, the first thing I did was phone my friend, mentor and former professor Reg Skene. I told him about the project and asked him where he thought I should begin. Reg said he saw Shaw's love life as a mystery that should probably remain a mystery. But he told me about the published letters from Shaw and WB Yeats to Florence Farr (an actress, author and spiritualist who “aligned herself” with both literary greats), so I went to the library and picked up the letters along with a number of other books, plays, biographies. Florence was a very interesting person, and the dynamic between her and Shaw was an interesting one. It was very much a love-hate relationship. And there was the professional element – Florence was an actress who worked from her heart, and Shaw was very much an intellectual, working much more from his head, and as they had their affair and worked on plays together, he was trying constantly and unabashedly to “improve” her.
Is the play closely based on research?
It's historical fiction, which means that it is based on research, but I've run roughshod over everything. I draw a lot on a book called The Loves of George Bernard Shaw, as well as the letters, a biography of Florence and some of her own writing. I use selections from some of Shaw's plays to frame the piece. But I change historical details all over the place – some scenes are based on a single comment or quote, some are entirely imagined, some events happen out of their historical order, and the entire play is based around a seance that did not happen historically. But Florence Farr, historically, was involved in seances and the Golden Dawn Society.
Florence Farr was a feminist activist. Can you comment on this aspect of her life?
This is more something we hint at in the play than something we address directly. Feminism looked very different then, at the turn of the last century. It was a big deal then for a woman to live alone, without husband or parents, for a woman to have affairs with men without getting married, to have a career. In her writing, Florence was addressing these very basic questions of “how are women treated and why, what do women want and what do they not want.” Florence was opposed to marriage. And Shaw had all kinds of ideas about all kinds of subjects, which he expounded on in volumes and volumes of prefaces and postscripts and essays. We're looking at what actually happens when these kind of people get into a relationship.
I'd like to hear your thoughts about working with Doreen Brownstone.
Working with Doreen is always great. I mean, to many of us in the theatre community Doreen is family. But aside from that, she's really a tremendously skilled performer. And she has so much theatre experience. Also, her approach and perspective is so different than mine, so her input is always helpful. This is the second of my original plays that Doreen has performed in. In Remember the Night, Doreen's involvement helped me figure out what I wanted to do with the script. This time, the play was written with Doreen in mind from start to finish (although it's not finished). And her willingness, and Ross's, to commit to this project before the script
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