Toronto
2 min

Findley emerges from The Shadows

Stratford stages Tiff's final play

WRITER AND CAT. Timothy Findley and feline companion contemplate Credit: Xtra files

Timothy Findley began his career as an actor under the big tent at the 1953 inaugural season of the Shakespeare Festival at Stratford. So it is entirely fitting, and a particularly moving tribute to him, that his last work as a playwright, Shadows, will crown the inaugural season of Stratford’s newest venue, The Studio Theatre.



Findley, or Tiff as he preferred to be called, passed away in France on Jun 21 with his partner of 40 years, Bill Whitehead, at his side.



But his spirit and voice live on in this one act play that was specially commissioned by the festival for their new theatre. Director Dennis Garnhum, who directed Tiff’s play The Trials Of Ezra Pound last season, says that Shadows was “written as though he knew it would be his final play,” though Findley was not ailing when he wrote it.



According to Whitehead, “Tiff never planned. He would start with a situation, quite often a personal experience, and create around that.”



Findley loved dinner parties and Shadows takes place during the final course of a dinner party. The twist for the audience is that they must work backwards from the postprandial conversation to make the connections between the characters and understand their relationships. It is Findley’s most autobiographical play, says Whitehead, as it is directly inspired by two of Bill and Tiff’s own beloved dinner parties at home.



The first took place at their farm, Stone Orchard, near Cannington, and the guest list included an actress, a director, an actor and his designer wife, and two writers (Bill and Tiff). They decided to make it an elegant affair, and at one point in the evening the guests spied a family of deer drinking from the lily pond in the front yard. “Everyone crept out in the moonlight with their glasses and tried to be as silent as possible.” Then the deer bolted over the fence and were gone.



The second party was more impromptu and had 13 for dinner. Findley’s Irish superstition would not allow such an omen, so Whitehead parked a ventriloquist’s dummy of Sir John A MacDonald, a souvenir of one of Findley’s early plays, down in the 14th place.



Though Whitehead is not a character in the play, he says of one exchange between characters in particular that, “I can hear Tiff and I having this argument.” A gay relationship exists in the plot line, but, like a good mystery, the audience must discover the underlying history of the characters.



Both director Garnhum and Whitehead are amusingly coy about discussing too much about the play, preferring the audience to be surprised by its dynamic cast and writing. It’s called Shadows for a reason. The dinner party takes place during a lunar eclipse and in the darkness, Garnhum says, “It takes a long time to figure out what is truly going on.” That is the heart of the play. “It’s adventurous and provocative,” says Garnhum, “and deals with the nature of truth and lies.”



For the cast and director it was thrilling to have Findley at a workshop and “his presence changed the dynamic of a rehearsal. Everyone loved having Tiff and Bill there,” says Garnhum, “and the play touches on everything that he has done in his life.”



Whitehead took the cast and crew to dinner recently and made a toast to absent friends. “They all know who I meant.” And Garnhum adds, “The last words of the play were always Tiff’s closing words. Be well, good night.”



SHADOWS.

Aug 24 to Sep 25.

Studio Theatre, Stratford Festival.

$28 – $50.

1-800-567-1600.

www.stratfordfestival.ca.