Montreal playwrights — including Leonard Cohen and Irving Layton — take centre stage at McGill

The poetry of Leonard Cohen is a point of pride for many Montrealers, but his brief stint as a playwright is a lesser known part of his artistic oeuvre.

In fact, Cohen wrote several little-known plays with another Montreal literary heavyweight: Irving Layton.

One of their collaborations, a one-act play called A Man Was Killed (1959), has never been professionally produced — until now.

Cohen and Layton’s play is one of eight that will be pulled out of the archives and onto the stage in a series of staged readings held at McGill Feb. 24- 27.

The series, organized by the McGill English Professor Erin Hurley and Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal, features plays from different periods in Montreal’s English theatre history from 1930 to 1979.

“One of the aims is to try to raise visibility of English language theatre practice in Montreal and in Quebec more broadly,” said Hurley. 

Micheline Chevrier, left, and Erin Hurley organized the series. (Franca Mignacca/CBC)

The plays featured in the series focus on different aspects of Quebec life, including a play about the Jewish Montreal experience by well-known writer Aviva Ravel and a one-person show from the perspective of a Jamaican immigrant.

“In the 30s and 40s, a lot of what we’re seeing is that question of class, of socioeconomic status and of status more generally,” said Hurley. 

“By the time we get to the 60s and 70s, we see a lot of themes around social issues and we see family dramas.” 

Each night of the staged reading series is being produced with the collaboration of four of Montreal’s major English theatre companies.

Micheline Chevrier, artistic director of Imago Theatre, is directing the first night of the series which features plays from the 1930s and 40s.

“The choice is really interesting because the two plays talk about class and status and position in society,” said Chevrier, adding that the two plays tackle the issue in very different ways. 

Chez Nous: A Staged-Reading Series Showcasing English-Language Drama in Quebec is a free event at McGill’s Moyse Hall from Feb. 24 to 27. A schedule of the four nights can be found here.