Burke didn't see what exactly happened, or why. But he instantly became curious. The accident---what he today refers to as a "big spill"---how did it happen? Who were these people involved? What happened in their lives that led to that exact moment? How would they change? "I couldn't get any follow-up to the story," he explains, because his French simply wasn't good enough to read the papers or talk to the police. "So I kinda started imagining things."
That imagination has led to Fall in Paris, the first play in Eastern Front Theatre's 18th season. Burke makes clear that the accident he witnessed in Paris so many years ago does not appear in the play---he's replaced that critical moment with an act of infidelity, a crisis in its own way for the young couple who star in the production. It follows Darren (Matthew Gorman), who cheats on his girlfriend Claire (Kate Lavender), as he tries to patch things up by sweeping her off to Paris. Though they're thrown together with Cecelia (Jennifer Overton), struggling with a new identity as a divorcee, their youthful interpretation of love is the heart of the script.
"I set out to write a play about a young couple," Burke says, "that would be an opportunity to explore, I guess, the nature of love and what does it really mean to love somebody."
Skewing young is atypical for Burke, whose previous writing credits include Singalong Jubilee: The East Coast Sound Celebration (based on the 1970s CBC program) and Canada's Songbird: A Musical Tribute to Anne Murray (based on the 1970s pop singer). But Fall in Paris is different: on top of its distinctly salad days content, it's premiering at the Bus Stop Theatre, one of the few Halifax theatres known for young crowds, something Burke admits Eastern Front hasn't traditionally done. "I think this area is extremely buzzy," he says. "There is a life here."
Burke---who, in addition to writing and directing the piece, is also Eastern Front's artistic director---began writing Fall in Paris over two years ago. He took it to the Playwrights Atlantic Resource Centre in Sackville, NB, where he came to despise almost every word he wrote. "I couldn't really find the tone of the play, and it was so early that literally everything I put on the page I was not happy with," he recalls. "To go from already not being happy with what was on the page into actually hearing people say those words is excruciating."
But he still finished the two-week course. The next several months were spent tweaking and adjusting the script, then casting, which came easy. The result is a romantic comedy with a modern theatrical style, featuring projections of Parisian hotspots in golden frames on the walls ("It's kinda like, y'know, when you're in Paris, you go to a lot of galleries," Burke explains), with the set itself as simply one large broken frame in the middle of a theatre-in-the-round. The characters frequently break the fourth wall, too---a testament to what Burke calls "that duality that makes live theatre so fantastic. That ability to turn it...into a very private, realistic scene, and then open it up and say, 'We're all in a room, together.'"
Fall in Paris, Continues to November 28, 8pm with 2pm weekend matinees, Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen Street, $15-$30, easternfronttheatre.com