Joan MacLeod has no fear when it comes to peeling back the layers of society’s most difficult issues. Her plays include Little Sister, a portrayal of teenage eating disorders; Amigo’s Blue Guitar, the story of a 19-year-old Salvadoran refugee; and The Shape of a Girl, loosely based on the tragic bullying and murder of Victoria teen Reena Virk.
In MacLeod’s latest play, The Valley, she tackles the complex and volatile relationship between the police and people with mental health issues.
“(Policing) is a very different job than it was when I was young,” the UVic professor says. “I was interested in how my feeling about policing changed throughout my life. I was anti-cop growing up as a kid of the 60s, but once I had a family, became a property owner I wanted protection. I found it all very interesting to look at.”
Originally from North Vancouver, MacLeod, a University of Victoria graduate, has been teaching in UVic’s writing department for the past 12 years and takes inspiration from young people.
“I’ve always loved teenage voices,” she says. “They have a long history in literature, certainly in novels, coming of age stories. I’ve always been drawn to those kind of stories. I love the voices, it’s what drew me to writing and writing for the stage. It’s an interesting time dramatically, it’s an interesting age for characters. They are waking up to a world where their feelings are big, their language is big,” she says.
In The Valley, a dramatic police encounter at a Vancouver SkyTrain station binds four people together – Connor, an aspiring novelist who has just dropped out of university; his mother Sharon, who is dealing with his erratic behaviour; Dan, a new father and Vancouver police officer; and Janie, his wife, who is struggling with the demands of motherhood.
“It’s a one act play with all four characters talking about their first experience with police,” says MacLeod. “I had a friend busted for switching price tags at 15, I didn’t do it but I didn’t realize it was breaking the law. She got hauled off in a police car and it was terrifying to me.”
Work-shopping the play in 2013, she had expert advice from a Calgary police officer, a good friend who is a psychiatric nurse and attended panels on justice and mental health issues to make sure The Valley’s interactions are authentic. MacLeod also read Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. “It’s incredible. It’s very well-written and talks about depression as its own different culture.”
MacLeod, who is currently on sabbatical from UVic while writing her 11th play, says she is very interested in contemporary issues. “My work is often inspired by stories that might be headline news that I look at through a smaller lens, the lens of family. That’s something the theatre can do really well, it’s a great medium to show another side of the issues rather than what you see on the news on TV.”
The Valley is at the Belfry Theatre Feb. 2 to 28. Talkback Thursday for The Valley is Feb. 11. After the curtain call, some of the actors return to the stage to answer your questions and offer insight into the play. belfry.bc.ca