Kit Brennan found the inspiration for her latest play at a bus stop.
“An elderly woman was sleeping with her head on her purse,” says Brennan. “She didn’t know where she was. She was quite confused. That image stayed with me. It haunted me. I thought, ‘Wow, I wonder what her story is?'”
From that experience, Brennan wrote The Invisibility of Eileen, which premieres this month at the Great Canadian Theatre Company.
In the play, the protagonist feels she’s become invisible to her son, her ex-husband and co-workers.
A hardworking, middle-aged social worker, Eileen has a 23-year-old son who suddenly returns home from university. She is also on good terms with ex-husband, Dennis. But when an elderly woman named Spragge wakes up in her flowerbed, Eileen welcomes her in and in talking to her, comes to realizations about her own life.
“Eileen is very stressed with work,” says Brennan. “She goes to the store and buys something and hands over her money. They only look at the money at the end of her arm.”
Brennan wanted to delve into the life of a social worker, which her sister was for many years, to examine the experience of many middle-aged women.
“You suddenly become ‘The Mom,'” Brennan says. “You become ‘The Teacher.’ You enter roles because you’re an adult. You’re not looked at in the same way. You become one of the people in the background.
“At a certain point, you feel invisible – and the title hit me.”
Brennan entered theatre through the stage door, but after acting for 12 years, decided she wanted to create plays instead of acting in them. Now a playwright of 13 years, she has also been an associate professor for 11 years at Concordia University’s playwriting program in the department of theatre. Influenced by English playwrights Caryl Churchill and Timberlake Wertenbaker and Canadian scribes such as George F Walker, Brennan writes historical and modern Canadian plays.
Critics have noted that she often examines the separate realities of characters. For example, Having, produced by Centaur Theatre in Montreal, features a dysfunctional family. Each member uses fantasy to escape bitter realities such as epilepsy, cancer or bankruptcy.
Theatre companies across Canada have produced Brennan’s plays, including Tiger’s Heart, 1996 winner of the Canadian National Playwriting Competition. Other works include Spring Planting, winner of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Literary Award. Magpie won a playwriting competition in Grain Magazine.
Critics have also called her a feminist playwright, a description Brennan embraces .
“It’s okay, I am,” says Brennan. “I’m amazed at my students – how they quickly deny being feminists – but don’t understand what the movement’s given them. I say to them: ‘Well, you should’ve been there. It wasn’t about hating men, it was about really pushing for what you now enjoy.’
“Eileen, in a way, confronts her son with those arguments. One of the things that she discovers about herself is ‘Why have I still got Dennis’ name? Why didn’t I change it back to my maiden name?'”
Brennan once said that it was good to shock audiences, but now qualifies the statement.
“I don’t know about shock,” says Brennan, “but certainly shake up preconceived ideas about what it means to love, [and] have a relationship that goes on your whole life. The theme is: Go and grab life – don’t sit around waiting for it to happen to you.”
THE INVISIBILITY OF EILEEN.Thu, Mar 11Sun, Mar 28.
Great Canadian Theatre Company.
910 Gladstone Ave.
Box office: 236-5196.