"Panych has never gone away long enough to be missed, it's easy to take him for granted, and to forget just how much work he's done." -- Mark Leiren-Young, 1989.

Morris Panych, an actor who studied Creative Writing at UBC, emerged as the most creative and prolific playwright in B.C. in the 1980s and 1990s. As a director and playwright, Panych has kept pushing the proverbial envelope, directing and writing and acting in more than 50 productions. As an actor he has made numerous appearances for television and films. "He's like a snake charmer," director Kate Weiss told Georgia Straight in 1989. "He has this incredible sort of allure."

His first play, Last Call, co-written with Ken MacDonald and first produced at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre in 1982, was a "post-nuclear cabaret" musical that imagined the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse. Directly influenced by Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus, Panych and MacDonald appeared on stage as the last two people on earth, with only beer, a piano, and each other. The show toured across Canada, winning the duo their first Dora Mavor Moore Award.

Panych became artistic director of Tamahnous Theatre from 1983 to 1985. His absurdist 7 Stories, about a man contemplating suicide from a seventh storey ledge, received six Jessie theatre awards in 1990. In the same year of its presentation, Panych wrote and directed Nocturne for Studio 58 at Langara College, played two consecutive leading roles at the Vancouver Playhouse and directed the season opener for the Arts Club. His many other original productions, usually with stage design by his partner Ken McDonald, have included Contagious, Cheap Sentiment, Real Talking People Show and 2 Be Wut U R. The latter play, along with The Cost of Living and Life Science, is contained in Other Schools of Thought.

A British adaptation of Vigil, re-titled Auntie and Me, was produced in London's West End. It won three Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards in 1996, including Outstanding Original Play. Panych's second edition of Vigil (Talon, 2012) incorporates changes to scenes and dialogue that have been part of the play's evolution over the past fifteen years, as well as a new playwright's note.

Girl in the Goldfish Bowl received five Dora Mavor Moore Awards in 2003, including Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Direction of a Play, and was accorded the Governor General's Award for drama in 2004. It has been described as a poignant comedy about childhood, innocence and fish.

His darkly comic What Lies Before Us (Talonbooks) was nominated for the 2007 Governor General's Award for English Drama. Panych won his first Governor General's award for Drama for The Ends of the Earth (1994).

Aptly described as "dancing between hope and despair," Panych's absurdist comedies have long attracted critical praise, as well as perplexed responses. In Benevolence, which premiered at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto in September of 2007, a shoe salesman and would-be screenwriter named Oswald, on a seemingly irrational impulse, gives a hundred dollar bill to a street person named Terence who has continually worn a handwritten cardboard sign around his neck saying "hungry" for two years. Oswald's seemingly rash act of kindness leads to a reversal of fortunes, until Oswald ends up penniless and on the run for a murder he didn't commit, involved with a reformer hooker--whether he likes it or not, after bizarre encounters with Terence in a porn theatre.

His drama Gordon (Talonboks, 2011) follows the life of an 'odd little child' who has a penchant for setting the neighbours' sheds on fire with their pets locked inside, and who ends up starting a business with a former cell mate.

Panych's play The Shoplifters (Talonbooks, 2015) is a hilarious study of the interactions between Alma and Phyllis, two senior shoplifters, and Dom and Otto, the two security guards charged with interviewing them. This comic adventure addresses ethics, morality and the similarities that exist between "society's haves and have-nots."; The Shoplifters was the winner of the 2015 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.

Sextet (Talonbooks 2016) has been heralded as "a dark and steamy comedy" that presents the harmonies and dysfunctions of six sexually entangled musicians on an ill-fated winter tour. When a blizzard strands this sextet for an extra night, they have only their instruments, each other, and their secrets to keep them warm. Complications arise because there are only four rooms. Four men and two women portray two cellists, two violinists and two violists. Nobody knows the full sexual score. Richard Ouzounian, a longtime reviewer of Canadian theatre, called Sextet "the best script Morris Panych has ever written."

Born in Calgary on June, 30, 1952, Morris Panych grew up mostly in Edmonton. Upon completing his Fine Arts degree at UBC in Creative Writing and Theatre, he spent two years studying acting in London, England, then returned to Vancouver in 1980. He eventually moved to eastern Canada with his partner Ken MacDonald, an accomplished set designer.

Books of Plays:

Last Call: A Post-Nuclear Cabaret (Harbour, 1983)
7 Stories (Talon, 1990)
The Ends of the Earth (Talon, 1994)
Other Schools of Thought (Talon, 1995)
Vigil (Talon, 1996) Updated second edition (Talon, 2012) $16.95 978-0-88922-692-0
Lawrence & Holloman (Talon, 1998)
Earshot (Talon, 2000)
Girl in the Goldfish Bowl (Talonbooks, 2003)
The Dishwashers (Talonbooks, 2005)
What Lies Before Us (Talonbooks, 2007)
Benevolence (Talonbooks, 2008)
Still Laughing: Three Adaptations by Morris Panych (Talonbooks, 2009)
The Trespassers (Talonbooks, 2010) 0889226288; $16.95
Gordon (Talonboks, 2011) 978-0-88922-664-7 $17.95
The Shoplifters (Talonbooks, 2015) $17.95 9780889229266
Sextet (Talonbooks 2016) $18.95 9780889229846

Other Plays:

Contagious (1984)
Cheap Sentiment (1985)
Simple Folk (1988)
The Cost of Living (1990)
The Necessary Steps
2 Be Wut U R (1992)
The Story of a Sinking Man (1993)
Real Talking People Show

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2016] "Theatre"