French, David 1939-
FRENCH, David 1939-
PERSONAL: Born January 18, 1939, in Coley's Point, Newfoundland, Canada; son of Edgar Garfield (a carpenter) and Edith (Benson) French; married Leslie Gray (a dance teacher), January 5, 1978 (one source says 1979). Education: Studied acting under Al Saxe in Toronto, 1958, at Pasadena Playhouse, 1959, and at Roy Lawler Acting School, Toronto, 1960.
ADDRESSES: Home—254 Brunswick Ave., Toronto, Ontario M5S 2M7, Canada. Office—c/o Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave., Toronto, Ontario M5R 1X3, Canada. Agent—Charles W. Northcote, Literary Agent, 3 Church St., Suite 507, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1M2, Canada.
CAREER: Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC-TV and-Radio), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, actor in plays, 1960-65, writer of radio and television scripts, 1962-72; writer, 1972—; post office worker, 1967-68. Writer-in-residence, University of Western Ontario, 2002-03; has also been a writer-in-residence at Trent University.
MEMBER: Playwrights Union of Canada, Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists, Dramatists Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Chalmers Award for best Canadian play from Ontario Arts Council, 1973, and Lieutenant Governor's Award, 1974, for Of the Fields, Lately; Canada Council grants, 1974 and 1975; Dora Mavor Moore award for outstanding play, Hollywood Drama-Logue Critics award, and Hollywood Drama League award, all 1985, Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Drama, 1986, Governor General's Award for Drama finalist, all for Salt-Water Moon; Arthur Ellis Award nomination for best mystery play, for Silver Dagger. Inducted into the Newfoundland Arts Hall of Honour, 1989; named Officer of the Order of Canada, 2001; recipient, Golden Jubilee Medal.
Leaving Home (two-act; first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at Tarragon Theatre, 1972; produced in New York, NY, at Theatre of Riverside Church, 1974), New Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1972, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1976.
Of the Fields, Lately (two-act; first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at Tarragon Theatre, 1973; produced on Broadway at Century Theatre, 1980), introduction by Urjo Kareda, Playwrights (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1973, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1975.
One Crack Out (three-act; first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at Tarragon Theatre, 1975; produced Off-Broadway at Phoenix Theatre, 1978), Playwrights (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1975.
(Translator) Anton Chekov, The Seagull (four-act; translation first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at Tarragon Theatre, 1977), Playwrights (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.
The Riddle of the World, first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at the Tarragon Theatre, 1981.
Salt-Water Moon (first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1984; produced in Costa Mesa, CA, 1985; produced in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1986), Playwrights (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1988.
(Adapter) The Forest, first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1987.
1949 (first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, by Canadian Stage Company, 1988), Talonbooks (Vancouver, British Columbia), 1989.
Silver Dagger (first produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1993), Talonbooks (Vancouver, British Columbia), 1993.
That Summer (first performed, 1999), Talonbooks (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2000.
Soldier's Heart (first performed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2001), Talonbooks (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2002.
Beckons the Dark River, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-TV (CBC-TV), 1963.
The Willow Harp, CBC-TV, 1964.
A Ring for Florie, CBC-TV, 1964.
After Hours, CBC-TV, 1964.
Sparrow on a Monday Morning, Westinghouse Broadcasting Corp., 1966.
A Token Gesture, CBC-TV, 1970.
A Tender Branch, CBC-TV, 1972.
The Happiest Man in the World (adaptation of the short story by Hugh Garner), CBC-TV, 1972.
Angeline, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation-Radio (CBC-Radio), 1967.
Invitation to a Zoo, CBC-Radio, 1967.
Winter of Timothy, CBC-Radio, 1968.
A Company of Strangers, (novel), 1968.
(Editor, with Michael Richards) Media Education across Europe, Routledge, 1994.
(Editor, with Michael Richards) Contemporary Television: Eastern Perspectives, Sage Publications, 1996.
(Editor, with Michael Richards) Television in Contemporary Asia, Sage Publications, 2000.
Author of scripts for children's television series Razzle Dazzle; contributor to In First Flowering, edited by Anthony Frisch, Kingswood House, 1956. Contributor of short stories to magazines, including Montrealer and Canadian Boy.
SIDELIGHTS: Canadian playwright David French is an award-winning author often recognized for his series of plays featuring the Mercer family, a group of Irish immigrants who have settled in Newfoundland. These plays include Leaving Home, Of the Fields, Lately, Salt-Water Moon, 1949, and Soldier's Heart. Leaving Home, French's first stage play, concerns the family's frustration with moving from their recentlyestablished home in Newfoundland to Toronto. Their sense of displacement aggravates normal family tensions, and bitter arguments result, especially between Jacob Mercer and his oldest son, Ben. Jacob sees in Ben his hopes for recapturing what he feels has been his own unsuccessful life, but Ben wants to break free of his traditionalist father's aspirations for him to work in a trade and instead go to university. Between the two warring men, Ben's mother, Mary, tries vainly to maintain the peace, while his younger brother, Billy, prepares to marry a Catholic woman whom he has gotten pregnant. It is the wedding the brings the family's tensions to a peak, ending in Ben finally leaving home.
French's next play, Of the Fields, Lately, continues the story of the Mercers with Ben's return to attend an aunt's funeral. He and his father renew their old quarrels, which end only with Jacob's death and Ben's complete feeling of alienation at the play's end. "The play is permeated with a sense of death," commented a Contemporary Dramatists essayist, "but the funeral device does not create as tight a dramatic unity as does the wedding in Leaving Home." On the other hand, Michiko Kakutani maintained in a New York Times review: "This lyrical play is actually an extended flashback that meticulously traces the incidents that day by day, year by year have built up a wall between the two men." The play also shows what familial relations might have been if the father and son had reconciled their differences. Such a glimpse makes the son's concluding monologue all the more poignant.
Taking the Mercer family back before the time of the action in Leaving Home, French explores the early relationship between Jacob and his future wife, Mary, in Salt-Water Moon. The play "focuses narrowly on Jacob and Mary, their frustrated love, their poverty, and their poignant struggle in different ways to help their families," related the Contemporary Dramatists writer: "Mary to save her sister from the brutality of an orphan asylum, and Jacob to spare his father the humiliation of being 'in collar,' a pernicious employment system devised by the local fishing bosses." Theatergoers familiar with the earlier plays by French will know that Jacob and Mary eventually work out their problems and wed, so the main tension of the play arises from the question of how this resolution will come about.
The Mercer saga continues with 1949, set in a year when Newfoundland is to solidify its political ties with the rest of Canada. The family greets the event with mixed emotions, feeling that it represents both the future of their adopted country and the loss of the unique culture of Newfoundland. With 2001's Soldier's Heart French explores the character of Jacob and his relationship with his father, Esau, by going back to the year when Jacob was sixteen and is preparing to enlist in the military and fight in World War II. Esau, who fought in the Great War, does not want his son to leave, and so he finally tells Jacob of the many horrible and traumatic experiences he had as a soldier, something he had been unable to do before this time. His opening up to Jacob finally mends the rift between father and son. Acknowledging the promising theme in this play, a Maclean's nevertheless found the piece weakened by sentimentality.
In addition to the Mercer plays, French has also written a number of other comedies, mysteries, and dramas for the stage. Among these is One Crack Out, which chronicles how Charlie, a has-been pool hustler, regains enough courage and confidence to meet Bulldog, a cruel, vindictive debt collector, in a pool-game showdown. Charlie's devoted wife and a reluctantly sympathetic pimp support him in his struggle against his tormentor. Noting that One Crack Out was French's first play not to include the Mercer's, the Contemporary Dramatists writer said, "Despite the fact that the play is less strong than French's first two, it marks a forward step in his development by moving away from the autobiographical into an invented, objective world."
Mercer's other works include the comedies The Riddle of the World and Jitters. The former, as it is described on the playwright's Web site, is a "comedy about the struggle between the flesh and the spirit"; the latter is a backstage comedy, a play within a play, which records the story of a group of actors who have the "jitters" four days before their play is to open. Excitement is also high as a big Broadway producer is expected to be in the audience. With both humor and sentimentality, French explores the personal aspirations and problems of each actor as the fateful day approaches.
Other more recent plays by French include the mystery Silver Dagger and the drama That Summer. Silver Dagger concerns mystery writer Steve Marsh, whose literary conceits soon become reality as he and his wife receive a series of threatening phone calls and are put in jeopardy by blackmail and murder. That Summer reacquaints audiences with the familiar ground of French's Newfoundland, where an elderly woman has returned with her granddaughter and reminisces about one fateful summer in her life. Although Variety critic Mira Friedlander found the plot of That Summer to be conventional, she conceded that "the play does deliver a potent dose of nostalgia which should appeal to audiences craving a simpler, kinder world where even death had dignity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Anthony, Geraldine, Stage Voices: Twelve Canadian Playwrights Talk About Their Lives and Work, Doubleday, 1978, pp. 233-250.
Bryden, Ronald, and Boyd Neil, eds., Whittaker's Theatre: A Critic Looks at Stages in Canada and Thereabouts 1944-1975, Whittaker Project, 1985, pp. 158-161.
Contemporary Dramatists, sixth edition, St. James (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Zimmerman, Wallace and Cynthia, The Work: Conversations with English-Canadian Playwrights, Coach House Press, 1982, pp. 304-316.
Canadian Drama/L'Art Dramatique Canadien, fall, 1975, pp. 115-118; spring, 1976, pp. 58-66, 67-72; spring, 1980, pp. 30-42; spring, 1985, pp. 2-229.
Canadian Forum, March, 1974, pp. 26-27.
Canadian Literature, summer, 1980, pp. 62-69, 71-85.
Canadian Theatre Review, spring, 1980, pp. 30-43.
Fiddlehead, winter, 1974, pp. 61-66.
Maclean's, November 26, 2001, "Great War Wounds," p. 48.
New York Times, January 18, 1978; November 6, 1979; March 12, 1980; April 15, 1980.
Variety, August 9, 1999, Mira Friedlander, review of That Summer, p. 50.
David French Web Site,http://www.davidfrench.net (November 24, 2003).*