Three Bluenose Plays


225 pages
ISBN 0-88999-256-8





Reviewed by David E. Kemp

David E. Kemp is a drama professor at Queen’s University and the
author of The Pleasures and Treasures of the United Kingdom.


Arthur Murphy is both a playwright and an eminent surgeon and therefore vocationally is in the tradition of Anton Chekov, Somerset Maugham, and James Bridie — all of whom practised both arts (or sciences, if you prefer). Like these earlier doctor-dramatists, Murphy has put his medical knowledge to excellent use, not only in terms of hospital plots and “dramatic” illnesses but in terms of human nature and relationships. His insights into both individual and social psychology have produced plays which, although they could be considered a little old fashioned, are nevertheless full of multi-dimensional characters and interactive tensions. Murphy also has an acute ear for dialogue and dialect and an abiding perception and understanding of the people of Nova Scotia, among whom he has spent most of his life. The three plays in this volume are regional pieces, and the good doctor is a truly regional playwright.

“To the Editor: Sir” is historical in plot, setting, and characterisation. It makes much use of documentary research and is a very personal mixture of idealism, faith and scepticism, and fact and fiction.

“Keeper of the Gold” is a free adaptation of a Maritime folk tale about Captain Kidd. It contains elements of history, fantasy, caricature, and horse-play; Mayor Moore, who writes a splendid introduction to the collection, likens it to Chaucer’s “Pardoners’ Tale.”

Finally “You’ll Be Calling Me Michael” is an expressionistic, symbolic, and darkly brooding play whose operatic qualities link it to “Peter Grimes” or “Riders to the Sea.”

Alardyce Nicoll once wrote of Arthur Schnitzler, yet another physician-cum-playwright, that he was an objective, unimpassioned, scientific observer, a cynic who saw the meanness and follies of the world, and a poet whose heart was filled with compassion, beauty, and faith. Arthur Murray is not as good a playwright as Schnitzler was, but the life experience that shines through his plays makes him akin to Schnitzler in those respects which Nicoll outlines: a worthwhile and timely volume.



Murphy, Arthur L., “Three Bluenose Plays,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,