December Man looks beyond headlines of 1989 Montreal killings

Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy set out to remember the massacre at École Polytechnique, but she came at it from a different perspective in her play December Man.

Ceremonies took place across Canada on Thursday in commemoration of the killing of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal on Dec. 6, 1989.

Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy also set out to remember that sad event, but she wanted to come at it from a different perspective, she told CBC Radio's cultural affairs show Q on Thursday.

Her play, The December Man, which won this year's Governor General's Literary Award for drama, looks at the story of a fictional student, a man who was in the room with mass murderer Marc Lépine and survived.

"I was interested in looking beyond the headlines and looking at the footnotes, because so often when you hear about these things — and they saturate the news about four days and then they disappear — one wonders what happened to the people that were touched by it,"Murphy said.

"I wanted to look at this public event, but very indirectly, so that's why I chose a young man that was there and left and how that action that day that he took affected the rest of his life and the life of his family," Murphy said.

She tells the story backwards, beginning where her main character, Jean, ends up 15 years later.

It was a tough way to write the play,Murphy admitted, but she felt that writing it chronologically would be "exploiting the event."

She said shewanted audiences to come at the very public event from the outside, without anysense that they know what will happen.

"Writing it backwards, what the audience experiences is they gather more insight into this family," she said.

As a playwright, Murphy said she "put myself in the situation of the mother and the father and how all that feels."

Jean's family has its own history, and his experience radiates throughout their lives in the intervening years.

"I'm more interested in exploring this emotional impact rather than a kind of analysis — a psychological analysis of the event itself," she said.

Murphysaid she hates to seecharacters divided into good and bad, as that doesn't give any insight into whyevents such as the École Polytechnique massacre happen.

"The question becomes for the dramatist, Why do these things happen? What do they mean and why do they keep happening?" she said.

"An event like this has many perspectives. To remember is to actively explore it and to actively ask questions," Murphy said.

The December Man (L'homme de décembre) had its world premiere last February as part of the Enbridge playRites Festival at Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary.

It will open at Edmonton's Rice Theatre in March and the Berkeley Theatre in Toronto in April.