It was a decade ago that Hope McIntyre began conceiving a play in answer to how the post 9/11 fight against terrorism was fomenting a disturbing political repression and intolerance of dissent on both sides of the Canadian/American border.
"It was George W. Bush mostly, some of the rhetoric, the whole if-you're-not-with-us, you're-against-us mentality, a lot of his speeches and the actions of the U.S. government," says McIntyre, the artistic director of Sarasvti Productions for all of its 12 years.
Often playwrights will use their fervour about an issue du jour to blurt out a quick script in protest. That wasn't how McIntyre birthed her seventh play. The 38-year-old North Ender followed the slower, more painstaking path through multiples drafts, rewrites, workshops and readings, never losing the passion that had initially moved her.
"I realized that the idea was not going away," says McIntyre. "Why I kept working on it was that it seemed to be continuously relevant. We are moving away from being a society that cares about people and that's what really frightens me."
The result is Eden, a dystopian drama focused on two 15-year-olds who come from two very different classes but share a world built on lies and manipulation. Adam, the son of an interrogator/torturer named George, meets Evelyn, a young outcast. In this repressed society marginalized groups are the scapegoats for all its ills and must live underground.
"I was reading about Syria the other day and it felt like it came from out of the play," says McIntyre. "It was about Syrian refugees who had videotaped proof of the massacres by the government. They were trying to tell the truth and that's what happens in the play. The characters in the underground are trying to prove they aren't the evil terrorists the government has made them out to be."
The title is meant to be ironic. Canada is often seen as a paradise by many, especially those from aboard living in versions of hell. Every person has a different vision of paradise, says McIntyre, whose previous plays include Revisionings, Death of Love, Hunger and Ripple Effect.
"If you are living in poverty in Canada or on a reserve, it's not going to be Eden or paradise for you," says McIntyre, whose new play about hunger called Empty will debut at FemFest in September.
Eden is the biggest production Sarasvti Productions -- which is dedicated to staging theatre that inspires, challenges and encourages positive social change -- has ever undertaken. Most of its presentations have been small scale, primarily as part of FemFest, its annual festival of plays by women. This production is a step up with a large cast, video presented on three onstage screens and directed by actress/playwright Sharon Bajer.
Creating the whole new world of Eden has been a challenge. During rehearsals one day to make sure everyone knew their place, Bajer had the entire cast draw a map of the play's universe. It was up to videographer Jordan Popowich to find a visual representation of the undesirable section where the under class exists in the two-hour play being presented at the University of Winnipeg's Asper Centre for Theatre and Film on Colony Street.
"It was shot by the Louise Bridge," says Bajer. "You hike into the bush from the parking lot where there is this crazy place full of old rusted out pieces of metal with graffiti on them. This is exactly where the undesirable people live."
Opens Friday, to May 13
Tickets: $18, $12 students/seniors at 586-2236 or www.sarasvati.ca