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Playwright wins Quebec award for new work

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Playwright Michael Milech HEATHER SOLOMON PHOTO

Michael Milech’s newest play is the literary “black gold” flowing through Infinitheatre’s The Pipeline 2016, the public readings resulting from its annual Write-on-Q playwriting competition.

Following the reading earlier this month of his The Nutritional Value of Anger, Milech accepted the $3,000 Pam Dunn Prize placing him first in a field of more than 40 entries from across Quebec.

The play is an engrossing exchange among characters representing three hot topics in today’s society: homelessness, immigrants and the self-involvement partially induced by social media.

A homeless woman hunkered down outside a dépanneur harangues oblivious customers, earning only the displeasure of the Iranian owner. Her anger at being ignored; the anger of the proprietor whose own daughter is still missing in the maw of her old country and the feckless anger of the preppie student client forced to choose between snacks for a friend’s visit are thrown into sharp contrast.

“What spurred this play was when I was studying acting for a year in Toronto at George Brown College. I lived across the street from a little 24-hour Korean grocery store and one time there was a young man sitting outside, sarcastically and bitterly berating anybody who would walk in and out without giving him something. It stuck with me,” says Milech who by then had an undergraduate degree in political communications from the Université de Montréal that he currently makes use of in his federal government day job.

The acting experience proved valuable when he switched over to fulfil his talent for writing plays. He prepped for that with a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, completed in 2012.

Milech’s thesis was a Holocaust-themed play The Never-Again Club. He staged two others at the university’s NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival: Swim with the River and Christmas Break, about a Jewish woman who unloads her kvetching on a captive Santa when he mistakenly pays her a visit.

“I was always interested in theatre, even when I was at Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools and Bialik. I live in Gatineau and work in Ottawa but it’s always nice to have an excuse to come in [to Montreal],” says Milech whose parents still live in Montreal West.

Milech will soon be back again to see a major production of his play Honesty Rents by the Hour presented by Infinitheatre-Giant Productions at the Rialto Infinite Studio.

Coming up Feb. 28 to March 19, it was last year’s Write-on-Q fourth runner-up, staged by director Matthew Jacobs for the Festival St. Ambroise Fringe de Montréal this summer and winning the Frankie Award for Best English Text.

The story will likely raise as many eyebrows as it did at the Fringe.

A chassidic Jew, an unfulfilled francophone housewife and a secular Jewish grad student meet clandestinely in a motel room for what is supposed to be a session of anonymous sex but the layers they strip away go beyond the clothing they shed. 

“The idea came to me when I missed a couple of classes at the Université de Montréal to observe Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When I told someone why I’d been away, she said I didn’t look Jewish, meaning I didn’t have the hat and the payes and everything. She didn’t mean anything negative by it but I decided to write about the conflation of Chassidim and other Jews in Quebec. I could be more honest in the motel situation than outdoors,” says Milech.

“I think it’s done in a way that’s very respectful and compassionate. You don’t want to shock people for the sake of it but if there’s a certain place the story has to go, I don’t censor myself. Some people see the way a Chassid dresses as a barrier – I removed it.”

For tickets to Honesty, call 514-987-1774 ext. 104 or go to www.infinitheatre.com.