Alan Thomas is a professor of English at the University of Toronto.
Malcolm Lowry’s elusive personality has always shared some of the attention rightly directed toward his brilliant novel Under the Volcano, written, as legend tells us, in Dollard, British Columbia, just across the water from Vancouver. Michael Mercer’s play arises from a 1977 visit made to Conrad Aiken, the southern U.S. writer who was Lowry’s mentor, and who was at that time still alive though in failing health, and able only with difficulty to recall much about his troublesome protege. Mercer uses Aiken’s memories in the play, as he had in the visit, as a bridge to reach the shadowy and shifty personality of Lowry. The dramatic tension of the play arises from the taut, deceptively easy-going relationship which Mercer believed existed between the two writers, the older, established man and the young tyro — knowledge and naivete feeding each other and curiously becoming reversed. Goodnight Disgrace has received several productions, both on the West Coast and in Toronto (an acclaimed production at the Toronto Free Theatre in 1985) and those successes well justify publication of the text. This is a Canadian play, it might be noted, which ignores the tempting fact of Lowry’s residence, and makes no mention of Canada.