Cook, Michael (English-Canadian stage and radio playwright, essayist, b. Fulham, London, England, February 13, 1933-d. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, July 1, 1994), “Quiller,”
a __-minute drama in English, set in a Newfoundland outport (a subsidiary port built in deeper water than the original port but usually farther from the center of trade), 1975,
© 1975 by Michael Cook;
• in Michael Cook’s Quiller and Tiln (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Playwrights Co-op, 1975);
• also, in Michael Cook’s Tiln & Other Plays, Talonplays series (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Talonbooks, 1976), ISBN 0889221073, containing “Terese’s Creed,” a __-minute drama, 1f; and “Tiln,” a __-minute absurdist play, 2m;
• also, in The Blasty Bough, edited by Clyde Rose (Portugal Cove, Newfoundland, Canada: Breakwater Books, 1976), ISBN 091994812X;
• also, in Cues and Entrances: Ten Canadian One-Act Plays, edited and with introduction by Henry Beissel (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Gage Educational Pub., 1977), ISBN 0771511914, biographical notes, containing Henry Beissel’s “For Crying Out Loud,” Carol Bolt’s “Maurice,” Robertson Davies’ “The Voice of the People,” Isabelle Foord’s “Say Hi to Owsley,” Ken Mitchell’s “Showdown at Sand Valley,” Mavor Morre’s “Customs,” George Ryga’s “Indian,” Michel Tremblay’s “Johnny Mangano and His Astonishing Dogs,” and James Reaney’s “Ignoramus;
• script/rights available from Playwrights Union of Canada, 54 Wolseley Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1A5, Canada, telephone 416-703-0201, fax 416-703-0059, firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Cited in Play Index 1973-1977: An Index to 3,848 Plays, edited by Estelle A. Fidell (New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1978), ISSN 0554-3037, LCCN 64-1054, p. 70;
• also, cited in The Brock Bibliography of Published Canadian Plays in English 1766-1978, edited by Anton Wagner (anthologist, editor, educator, theatre scholar, 1949-____) (Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Playwrights Press, 1980). ISBN 0-88754-157-7, ISBN 0-88754-155-0.
Quiller (m), 65, lonely old Newfoundland fisherman.
“Quiller, aged 65, lives alone and carries on a running conversation with God trying to figure out what his life has been about. He tells of his life as a fisherman, a wife who died and a friend who was burned alive.”—Brock, 98.
“Lonely old Newfoundland fisherman talks to God, dead wife, and passing neighbors. He makes offensive advances toward widow, becomes jealous when he sees her with young man, but remorsefully blesses union as he recalls own marriage.”—Fidell, 70.
“As he slowly dies, Quiller carries on a running conversation with God, recalling his life and struggles with his thwarted sexuality.”—Quiller - playdatabase.com, http://www.playdatabase.com/play.asp?play=4C58AAEB-D13E-4EB7-AC4D-734667054668, accessed December 14, 2006.
• Premiered [by Clyde Rose] at Memorial University in April 1975. at Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, April, 1975.—Brock, 98.
• “Michael Cook was born in Fulham, London, in 1933 and emigrated to Canada in 1966 where he joined the Department of Extension at Memorial University of Newfoundland as the Drama Specialist. He quickly became fully immersed in the emerging theatrical scene by becoming theatre reviewer for The Evening Telegram. One of the many new amateur groups that formed during the late sixties was the Open Group and by 1970 Cook began writing plays for this company. From 1970 to 1975, The Open Group worked closely with Cook on the creation of three plays, Colour the Flesh the Colour of Dust (1970), Head Guts and Soundbone Dance (1973) and Jacob's Wake (1974), often grouped as his Newfoundland trilogy. Colour The Flesh The Colour of Dust is a quasi-historical drama that loosely relates the surrender of St. John's in 1762 to the French and its subsequent recapture by the British. Often interpreted as a love story, Colour the Flesh the Colour of Dust is a play about survival. In order to explore this issue, Cook creates three characters, the lieutenant, the woman, and the captain who each offer different responses to the island. It is the woman and the Captain who can see clearly and accept the price that the bleak island demands. In the end, the Lieutenant remains unable to accept the failure that his new home promises and chooses instead a suicide of sorts. Head Guts and Sound Bone Dance dramatizes the tragedy that results from the past controlling the present. Skipper Pete demands that Absalom and Uncle John maintain their strict fishing rituals despite the fact that there are no longer any fish. This eerily prophetic play with its drowned child becomes a chilling dance of death. Jacob's Wake explores the relationship of a father, Winston, with his three sons, Wayne, a corrupt politician, Alonzo, a cynical business man, and Brad, a failed priest. It quickly moves from an apparently realistic family drama to nightmarish, expressionistic drama of 20th century failure as an approaching storm begins to dominate the stage. Once again, ritual lies at the heart of this play; Cook establishes clear patterns of behaviour that are transgressed and broken by the gathered family. The whole play, not merely the last few moments, is a wake, specifically for Jacob, the lost son of the title, but more generally for Newfoundland. Cook also wrote several one act plays, 'Tiln' (1971), 'Quiller' (1975) and 'Theresa's Creed' (1977), all with varied production histories and still frequently produced. In 'Tiln', two old men are caught in a personal power struggle. Using a lighthouse setting, Cook explores the modern man's dilemma in an uncaring world. In contrast, 'Quiller' is a one-person play set in a Newfoundland outport. In this play, Cook creates a portrait of an old man assessing his empty life. 'Theresa's Creed' is similar to 'Quiller' in that Cook again returns to the one-person format in an outport setting but here he explores the female role. Cook also received specific commissions. In 1975, Festival Lennoxville commissioned him to write a play based on a diary held in the Admiralty Records Office, Whitehall. This play, The Gaydon Chronicles (1977), produced by Rising Tide Theatre in 1985, is a broad, sweeping, drama, epic in style and substance, in which Cook explores a quasi-historical figure, using flashbacks and the figure of death. He received another commission in 1976, this time from The Newfoundland Travelling Company, which wanted a play for young audiences. The Fisherman's Revenge opened in Trinity East, Trinity Bay in 1975. This play uses the commedia dell'arte tradition to explore the idea of theatre. In the same year, Cook also returned to the Beothuk story, an idea that he had explored in a radio drama broadcast by the CBC in 1970. The resulting stage play, On the Rim of the Curve, was published in 1977. A disturbing and violent play, On Rim of the Curve uses the circus motif in order to explore a very bleak period of Newfoundland history. During the eighties, Cook continued to write under commission for radio and theatre. Increasingly radio became his favoured medium and he received several national and international awards for his scripts. After retiring from Memorial University, Cook made his home in Stratford, Ontario [, Canada], returning often to Newfoundland and his summer retreat at Random Island. On one of these many visits in 1994, Cook became ill on his way to Random Island and later died in St. John's.” [©2000, Denyse Lynde]—Michael Cook: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage, http://www.heritage.nf.ca/arts/michaelcook.html, accessed December 16, 2006.
• “Michael Cook Playwright born in London, England, February 13, 1933, who arrived in Newfoundland—after serving in the army during the Korean Conflict—in 1965 and became one of the province's most important theatrical figures. He died July 1, 1994. He said that, on arriving in Newfoundland, he immediately became aware of ‘a culture that was not only threatened, but doomed.’ He set out to portray the people, the land and the legends of the Rock to [varying] degrees of success. He began as a playwright in the 1970s, writing for radio and mounting his plays at Memorial University, where he taught and where many of his plays received their premieres in amateur productions before being performed at companies like Neptune Theatre and Festival Lennoxville. Mr. Cook, though fascinated by the life in Newfoundland, was also fascinated by theatrical form and his plays show a quixotic approach to structure and style that is at times thrilling and at times confusing. His use of language, however, shows a keen ear not only for dialect but also for rhythm and pace and he has written several of them for radio. In 1977 he served as playwright-in-residence at the Banff Centre for the Arts and in 1987 in the same position at Stratford. He also served on the editorial advisory board of Canadian Theatre Review. He was married three times and had 13 children. . . . (Additional information provided by Juanita MacDonald) Last updated 2006-10-12.”—Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, http://www.canadiantheatre.com/dict.pl?term=Michael%20Cook, accessed December 14, 2006.
• “Michael Cook, . . . a highly respected playwright and dramatist, . . . had an impressive, prolific, and diverse career. He wrote and directed plays for legitimate theatre and radio, had regular columns in the St. John's Evening Telegram, wrote essays, novels, and children stories, and acted in numerous theatrical productions. Most of the themes upon which he based his body of work dealt with explorations into Canadian and most particularly Newfoundland, cultural and social issues. Mr. Cook was so revered by his colleagues at Memorial University of Newfoundland that upon his death at the age of 61 in 1994, a scholarship was created in his memory, to help students who are inspired by his passion and genius in the fields of theatre and drama. Even though Cook built his reputation as a playwright of Newfoundland he was born in London in 1933. He was legally too young, but in 1949 he enlisted into the British Army. He served twelve years in the Far East and Europe, and rose to the rank of sergeant. During his stint in the army, he developed theatrical entertainment, much of which was done for radio. He became involved in all aspects of theatre, acting, writing, and directing, most notably a production of John Arden's Sergeant Musgrave's Dance. Upon leaving the army he was employed for a brief while in a ball-bearing factory. In 1962 he began training to become a teacher at Nottingham University College of Education, specializing in drama, and began teaching in 1965. Soon there after, he left England planning to go to Toronto, but never got any further than the eastern seaboard of Canada. He fell in love with Newfoundland, made it his new home, and quickly garnered fame as a St. John's radio and television personality. He married Janis Spence, who was also a respected playwright, director, and actor. Ms. Spence and Mr. Cook were very active in the highly recognized and thriving local theatre. The Open Group, Rising Tide Theatre (and especially the Summer in the Bight Festival that was completely devoted to Newfoundland drama), and the Resource Centre for the Arts were jumping hotbeds of talented fervor with excitement and numerous productions that began in the 70’s. They expanded their family with daughter Sarah, and Sebastian soon joined them. Michael worked for the Extension Service of Memorial University and in 1969 he became a member of the English Department. He was known as a excellent educator that demanded and challenged his students while always inspiring them. Janis and Michael divorced when Sebastian was two. Cook would take prolonged leaves of absence to pursue his writing. He lived on Random and Fogo Islands where the secluded locations allowed him to concentrate without distraction. He was fascinated by theatrical form and often experimented with his approach to its structure and style. He married Madonna Decker and had first a son, Fergus and then another daughter, Perdita (whose name was derived from the name of a character from William Shakespeare’s A Winter Tale [sic]). Sebastian and Sarah were raised by both parents and spent periods of time with each household. By the early 1980's Michael and his family would summer in Stratford, Ontario, hoping the proximity to Toronto would provide for the production of his plays. Mr. Cook was very influenced by Samuel Beckett, which is clearly evidenced, in his very successful play, 'Tiln.' His major staged plays were, Colour The Flesh Of Dust, On The Rim Of The Curve, and The Gayden Chronicles, each set in different time periods. He also finely detailed contemporary Newfoundland life and its challenge for survival in The Fisherman's Revenge, Head, Guts And Sound Bone Dance, The Head, Jacob’s Wake, 'Not As A Dream,' 'Quiller,' and 'Therese’s Creed.' Much of his work was not performed. Cook was given specific commissions throughout his career and produced such works as The Fisherman's Revenge (1975) and The Gayden Chronicles (1977). Mr. Cook's characterizations were usually of ordinary people rather than the upper class; they explored and exposed the psyches of these explicitly depicted people and their ongoing struggles. He was always very mindful in the way in which he depicted the importance of the Beothuk Indians with regard to Newfoundland and respectful of their past and subsequent mysterious disappearance. It is believed that the spirits of the land, air, and water compelled the Beothuks to settle in eastern part of Random Island and many believe the spirits still inhabit the area. While Michael Cook's works often took place in different eras, the underlying themes, reactions, and concerns of his characters are timeless and can be easily equated to contemporary matters and events. His plays examined thoughts and observations, both political and social. Cook's plays often showcased the Newfoundland environment filling them with great detail of its everyday way of life. Mr. Cook states in 1973, ‘I’m fascinated by what people do with their hands. The way they move. I wanted to incorporate many of the fisherman's basic activities into a play, net-mending, splitting fish, making a killick [also killock]; I reasoned that these things, dying things, would be fascinating to the audience to whom they were relevant as they would to those not familiar with them.’ Michael was well known for his brilliant and inventive use of language, its rhythm, and pace. He often utilized local dialect to give his works a truly realistic texture, highlighting the native traditions and cadence of the people and way of life. His plays have brought controversy, but always were very respected for their realism and passion. ‘My plays are about real people, with blood and guts and sinews. The language is of the people, remembered and cherished with love.’ Mr. Cook was a realist when evaluating and talking about his vast array of radio pieces as ‘potboilers, mediocre plays, and excellent plays.’ He wrote prolifically for the St. John's Evening Telegram and was compared to humorist Erma Bombeck in his sharing of his family life. He tells of his small son who ‘thinks toothpaste is floor polisher, soap a cookie.’ In the 1980’s he worked a great deal using the radio medium and received national and international awards for his scripts. He was an aficionado of local art and artifacts who amassed an eclectic collection from the environs he so cherished. He so wonderfully indicates his attachment and appreciation for Newfoundland, as he states when he had to leave his beloved home for a short while, ‘I grieve at leaving, though it’s not for long. And I grieve for my children. For nothing I or the city can give them can compensate for their freedom, and the loss of space and of identity, of belonging. As I write, the Northern Lights sound in the sky. And the tide at the full, whispers on the shale beach. The empty headlands, gloom away towards the Atlantic. And all around me are the lights against the night, each one known, personal, familiar. My lights will go out for a brief time. I will carry theirs with me.’ Cook retired in 1993 from Memorial University and settled with his family in Stratford, Ontario but often visited his summer retreat on Random Island. He continued to work on a state adaptation of This Damned Inheritance, which he originally wrote in 1984. In the summer of 1994 he traveled to St. John's to see a stage adaptation of his Head, Guts, and Sound Bone Dance, which was first produced 21 years ago, but was to be mounted in Newfoundland for the first time at the Reid Theatre, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Michael Cook was ill for a while before passing away a few days later, on his way home to Random Island. One can only wonder if he waited to end his days close to the land he so fell in love with many years ago. When Michael Cook passed away, his colleagues and friends wanted to find a special way to honor his brilliance, enthusiasm, and contributions, So they set up a scholarship in his name. The Michael Cook Scholarship is awarded each year to a undergraduate at Memorial University who is majoring in theatre or drama. Cook’s passion and talent for all phases of theatre and drama will joyously be perpetuated for many generations to come. He would be very pleased with that. Memorial services were performed on July 5, 1994, for Michael Cook at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist Church in St. John’s, after which his ashes were scattered around his beloved Random Island. Michael will forever be home. Perhaps he is still organizing dramas, with the mysterious Beothuks, and those ancient and long enduring siren spirits of the land, air, and water. [Barbara Widro]”—Sebastian's Parents, http://www.simpledesignz.com/~sspence/parents.htm, accessed December 14, 2006.
• Research could include Marlys Chevrefils’ The Michael Cook Papers: The First Accession and Second Accession. “Michael Cook rapidly built a reputation in the 1970s as a playwright of Newfoundland life. Although not born on the island, he soon became better known than such writers as Al Pittman and Ted Russell. Four full-length plays (Colour the Flesh the Colour of Dust; The Head, Guts and Sound Bone Dance; Jacob's Wake; and The Gayden Chronicles) and six one-act plays (‘Tiln,’ ‘Quiller,’ ‘On the Rim of the Curve,’ ‘Therese's Creed,’ ‘The Fisherman's Revenge,’ and the unpublished ‘Not as a Dream’) were staged between 1971 and 1978. He is also the outstanding Canadian radio dramatist of his generation, with over fifty plays. As an essayist, his columns for the St. John's Evening Telegram enhance his interpretation of what defines Newfoundland and examine the big issues of Canadian culture.”—Michigan State University Press | Michael Cook Papers (The) | Marlys Chevrefils, http://msupress.msu.edu/bookTemplate.php?bookID=663, accessed December 14, 2006.
• Also, research could include Craig Stewart Walker’s "Michael Cook: Elegy, Allegory and Eschatology," The Buried Astrolabe: Canadian Dramatic Imagination and Western Tradition (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001), 468 pp., ISBN 0773520759.
• Also, research could include discussions with Cook in Canadian Theatre Review, I (1974).
• Also, research could include discussions with Cook in Canadian Theatre Review, XVI (1977).
• Also, research could include discussions with Cook in Canadian Drama, II (1976).
• Also, research could include Geraldine Anthony, ed., Stage Voices (1978).
• Also, research could include Donald R. Bartlett’s comments on Cook in The Newfoundland Quarterly, vol. LXXVIII, no.3 (1982).
• Also, research could include Malcolm Page’s “Michael Cook Biocritical Essay” © 1994.—http://www.ucalgary.ca/lib-old/SpecColl/cookbioc.htm, accessed December 14, 2006.
• Photo from Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia, http://www.canadiantheatre.com/dict.pl?term=Michael%20Cook, accessed December 14, 2006.
• Also, research could include Craig Stewart Walker’s “Ship of Death: Eschatology in Michael Cook's Quiller,” Theatre Research in Canada, vol. 16, number 1-2 (1995) pp. 69-80. “This essay examines Michael Cook's ‘Quiller’ as a parable of personal eschatology. The ambivalent symbolism in the play expresses the uncertain state of conciousness [that is, subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and one’s environment] in the title character, who is caught between his sense of prophetic insight and ordinary perceptions.”—http://www.lib.unb.ca/Texts/TRIC/bin/getBack.cgi?directory=backissues/abstracts/&filename=vol16.html, accessed December 14, 2006.
alienation, Celtic imagination, conciousness, death, fantasy, fishing, friendship, God, immolation, marriage, old age, prayer, raison d’être, senility, solitude, vision.
Other Plays by Michael Cook