New play comes of age at Gateway Theatre

John Lazarus, a playwright with a few dozen titles to his credit, saw his script for The Grandkid first come to life two years ago in Kingston, Ont.  -
John Lazarus, a playwright with a few dozen titles to his credit, saw his script for The Grandkid first come to life two years ago in Kingston, Ont.
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The line came in a much earlier John Lazarus play. Actor Richard Newman—the same actor now starring in The Grandkid at Gateway Theatre—was first to say it on stage: “We all get to be the same age, only at different times.”

It’s a fitting theme for Lazarus’ The Grandkid, a two-actor, two-hour play about a grandfather and granddaughter who have much to learn about each other after improbably becoming roommates.

Starting university, headstrong Abby moves in with Julius, her recently widowed grandfather, and the two try to transcend their age difference and be roommates and friends. She’s a liberal and supporter of Palestinian rights, while he’s a film studies professor and Zionist holding tightly his Jewish heritage. There’s plenty of struggle in store—especially when the two butt heads over the future of the town’s struggling movie theatre—that’s much greater than a simple age gap.

“Age difference is not what it’s cracked up to be. It isn’t as important as we seem to think it is,” said Lazarus in a phone interview from his office at Queen’s University.

“We tend to characterize people by age, and I think that’s rather a shame. I’m hoping that young people and old people will enjoy this and see the connections.”

Lazarus, an associate professor in the drama department of the Kingston, Ont. university, premiered his play in 2012. A little tweaking later, the script is set to make its western Canada debut next week at the Minoru Park theatre.

The Montreal-born playwright spent 30 years in Vancouver before landing at Queens in 2000, and he’s always wanted to return here with a play. Now the 66-year-old is getting his chance.

Lazarus has a dozen full-length plays to his credit, along with another dozen one-act plays. Gateway Academy students happen to be exploring one of his works this season—the much-produced favourite Village of Idiots.

His career in theatre started after graduating National Theatre School in 1969. He moved to Vancouver to become an actor. After five years on stage he turned to radio, writing ad copy and doing commentary, to support his family. The job didn’t last long.

“They were absolutely right to fire me. I was not meeting my deadlines because I was busy writing plays on their time. I started exploring acting again, but the thrill was gone. I still to this day don’t know why.”

Playwriting became his niche. He taught others the craft at Studio 58, and is today one of Canada’s most prolific playwrights. The Lazarus script Gateway’s artistic director Jovanni Sy wanted to bring to Richmond was born out of inspiration from friends who found themselves in a situation reflected in The Grandkid.

“I heard that story about my friends and I said to my wife, ‘This sounds like a two-hander—grandfather and granddaughter trying to be roommates,’” said Lazarus.

He wrote the work in a single year—half the time he initially thought he had—for the scheduled premiere at the historic Grand Theatre’s studio space in Kingston, Ont. It was a successful opening for a play whose author doesn’t insist audiences take away a specific message.

Said Lazarus: “I don’t think plays are good at doing that. Plays are good at just observing people and saying aren’t we really all amazing creatures. I think every play should do that.”

The Grandkid

•by John Lazarus

•April 9 to 26 on Gateway Theatre MainStage

•Natasha Nadir directs, Richard Newman and Pippa Mackie star

•Tickets, $30 to $49, at gatewaytheatre.com or call the Gateway at 604-270-1812

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