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Playwright David French dies at 71 Add to ...

David French, a playwright best known for his stories about the fictitious Mercer family of Newfoundland, has died. He was 71.

Reports said had been battling brain cancer.

Albert Schultz, the artistic director of Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto, which has done revivals of French's plays, confirmed the news Sunday.

"The Canadian theatre, and indeed our country, has lost one of its greatest and most passionate citizens," Schultz wrote in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.

French wrote his first play about the Mercers, Leaving Home, in the early '70s for Bill Glassco at Toronto's Tarragon theatre.

It was a long-lasting relationship that would see Glassco direct French's plays for more than 30 years.

The Mercers were a family like French's who moved to Toronto.

Leaving Home would become a staple on regional theatres, high schools and universities across Canada.

It was named one of the 1,000 Essential Plays in the English Language by the Oxford Dictionary of Theatre.

A sequel, Of The Fields, Lately won a Chalmers Award in 1973 and was adapted as a CBC television special.

French wrote five plays about the Mercer family including Salt-Water Moon, about the courtship of the parents, set in Newfoundland in 1926.

There have been productions across the country for years and the play went on to win the Canadian Authors Association Award for Drama, the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play, and the Hollywood Drama-Logue Critics' Award.

Schultz said French was "Canada's great theatrical synthesizer of the personal to the universal."

"French made us laugh constantly, opening up our emotional capillaries to absorb and calm the pain. Every page was drenched in love and David's heartbreaking need to communicate that love to the ghosts of his youth."

In recent years, Toronto's Soulpepper Theatre has done revivals of Leaving Home and Salt-Water Moon.

French was also writer-in-residence at the University of Windsor and the University of Western Ontario and taught a course in playwriting each summer at the PEI Conservatory.

French was the first inductee in the Newfoundland Arts Hall of Honour, received the Queen's Jubilee Medal and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2001.

"For those of us that were lucky enough to know David there, will be a huge hole where once his great intelligence, humour, and compassion held a place," said Schultz.

 

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