Adam Pettle | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Adam Pettle

Adam Pettle, playwright (born at Toronto 1973). Adam Pettle is one of the most high-profile graduates (1999) of the National Theatre School of Canada's (NTS) playwriting program. He received a BA in theatre from Dalhousie University in 1994.
Pettle, Adam, writer
Adam Pettle has a reputation as a talented, prolific and consistently successful writer (photo courtesy Adam Pettle).

Pettle, Adam

Adam Pettle, playwright (born at Toronto 1973). Adam Pettle is one of the most high-profile graduates (1999) of the National Theatre School of Canada's (NTS) playwriting program. He received a BA in theatre from Dalhousie University in 1994. On record as stating that his guidelines for character development are "not to bore people and keep it moving," Pettle has quickly developed a reputation as a talented, prolific and consistently successful writer.

His first play, Therac 25 (1995, 2000, 2010), stages a developing romance in the halls of a cancer treatment unit. The autobiographical scenario (Pettle received extensive treatment for thyroid cancer in the early 1990s) is handled with directness, honesty and gentle but relentless gallows humour. Pettle's next drama, Zadie's Shoes (2000, 2001), is one of the few Canadian plays to successfully transfer from a medium-size house (The Factory Theatre) to the huge, commercial Winter Garden Theatre, a clear indication of its balance of intelligent writing and accessible, emotionally engaging characters and storyline. It has been produced across Canada as well as in the US and the UK.

Zadie's Shoes is just one of Pettle's plays that featured his brother, actor Jordan Pettle, in the cast of the premiere production. The plot of Zadie's Shoes involves a compulsive gambler who, while seeking money for his girlfriend's transfer to an alternative cancer clinic, gets sage advice and a hot tip on a racehorse from a mysterious prophet. Pettle renders this outlandish situation with humour, sympathetic characters and a persuasive sense of wonder.

The central characters of Sunday Father (2002, 2003) are 2 brothers who are presented, alternately, at 8 and 6 years of age, and at 34 and 32. The sons of divorced parents (thus the "Sunday Father" of the title), Jed and Alan's lives have been defined by their awkward and estranged relationship with their father. As children, they amuse themselves by creating and recording a mock radio show, "The Sunday Night Files." As adults, Jed is experiencing the falling apart of his own marriage following the discovery of his wife's infidelity, and Alan works, resentfully and painfully, as a lawyer in his father's firm. Yet all of this sobering content is mediated by Pettle's consistently buoyant dialogue, and the strength of the play lies in the quick and sure (and often very funny) exchanges between the central characters, which are paced through a considerable range of laughter, guilt, regret and tears.

Zadie's Shoes, Sunday Father and Therac 25 have all been nominated for Dora Awards for best new play.

In 2002, Pettle contributed an uncommonly tough one-act play entitled Misha to Theatre Direct's (Toronto) Buncha' Young Artists... Festival. The play, based on an actual contemporary schoolyard murder of one Jewish youth by another, is expressed through the perspective of a bereaved friend of the victim. The work, which still relies heavily on overt comedy, nonetheless entered new political and personal territory for the playwright, revealing novel aspects of his interests and abilities. Pettle's growing diversity was also evident in his adaptation of Chekhov's The Tragic Role as part of Soulpepper Theatre's two-evening Absolutely Chekhov event, also staged in 2002.

Pettle's next drama, Mosley and Me, received a much-anticipated premiere (2003) by the DVxT Theatre Company at Canadian Stage Company in Toronto. (Pettle enjoyed a lengthy tenure as one of Canadian Stage's playwrights-in-residence throughout the writing of Sunday Father.) The play, set in a Montréal bagel shop, evoked not-always-positive comparisons with American playwright David Mamet and England's Harold Pinter in its reliance on tight plot twists and high tension, low stakes, duplicitous sleight-of-hand. An apparent ex-con, Mosley, played by the gregarious Randy Hughson in the premiere production, is exposed as a con-on-the-run, but not before the play serves up multiple, crowd-pleasing narrative reversals. Pettle again proves himself capable of mastering familiar tropes and conventions, and the result is both accessible and surprisingly fresh, as well as an effective character vehicle for strong actors.

In 2005, Pettle travelled as head writer with 5 members of Theatrefront's ensemble to Cape Town, South Africa, to begin developing an international collective theatre creation in collaboration with The Baxter Theatre Centre. The Canadian and South African actors spent a month in Cape Town working together to create a new play. On 1 May 2005 they gave a workshop presentation of The Cape Town Project (Chapter 1) at The Baxter Theatre Centre for a public audience. One year later, the South African collaborators travelled to Toronto to continue work on the production and offered 4 public workshop presentations (Chapter 2) at Tarragon Theatre, which co-produced the venture.

Adam Pettle's play Rattle the Bones was given a workshop reading at Canadian Stage during its 2006/07 season, and he created Swimming to China, a radio drama miniseries commissioned by the CBC. Along with Brenda Robins, Pettle adapted Miklos Laszlo's romantic comedy Parfumerie, which Morris Panych directed for Soulpepper Theatre in 2009. Adam Pettle is co-creator and head writer of the award-winning miniseries Afghanada, heard on CBC Radio.

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