David Fennario

David Fennario, né Wiper, playwright (b at Montréal 26 Apr 1947). David Fennario grew up in Pointe-Ste-Charles, an anglophone working-class area in Montréal.

Fennario, David

David Fennario, né Wiper, playwright (b at Montréal 26 Apr 1947). David Fennario grew up in Pointe-Ste-Charles, an anglophone working-class area in Montréal. He drifted through a series of dead-end jobs until he enrolled in Montréal's Dawson College, where his creative writing teacher arranged a private publication of his journal entries on life in "The Pointe," which eventually became Without a Parachute (1972). Fortuitously, the book caught the attention of Maurice Podbrey, artistic director of the CENTAUR THEATRE, who encouraged Fennario to write plays and subsequently appointed him the theatre's first playwright-in-residence.

Podbrey also premiered On the Job (1975), which was an overnight success, and Nothing to Lose (1976), Toronto (1978), Balconville (1979), Moving (1983), The Murder of Susan Parr (1989) and The Death of René Lévesque (1991). Although both On the Job and Balconville won Chalmers awards, it was the latter that established Fennario's reputation as one of Canada's most talented and respected playwrights. Balconville, which contains one-third French dialogue, was billed as Canada's first bilingual play and the first to describe the language tensions between the English and French, who had recently elected the Parti Québécois, a separatist government. Balconville played across North America, was produced in London's Old Vic theatre, and broadcast on CBC-TV in 1985.

Fennario set his early naturalistic dramas in grimy factories, smoky taverns or decaying tenements, where he realistically depicted ordinary labourers who struggled against the economic imbalance that existed between management and workers. Subsequent plays, such as Bananaboots (1988), a one-man show that he wrote and performed, were developed at the Playwrights Workshop Montréal.

Increasingly concerned that the conventional, mainstream style of his plays was attracting a middle-class audience and not reflecting working-class subject matter, David Fennario turned to writing plays influenced by Bertolt Brecht, agitprop and cabaret. Joe Beef (1984), a history play about "The Pointe" and the first to adopt the new form, won the Pauline Julien Award from the United Steelworkers Union in 1986. After a lengthy absence from the Centaur Theatre, Fennario was commissioned to write a sequel to Balconville. Produced in 2006, Condoville revisits the characters and setting. Although the confrontations over language assume less importance, the inhabitants - now a more complex group of gays and mixed-race couples - continue to be oppressed by disenfranchisement and poverty; they are no longer able to afford their affluent neighbourhood, which has been gentrified by the quick rise of condominiums.

In 2002, David Fennario was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nerve disorder that left him initially confined to a wheelchair and unable to write or type by himself. Nevertheless, he ran for political office in 2003 and wrote and performed in Skeletal Staff, a work about the shortcomings of the healthcare system.