Buffoon by Anosh Irani

Reading a dramatic work, even when it’s only a one-act play, presents a different kind of challenge to readers than any other genre. Besides just following a plot, we have to imagine the various characters and create at least some semblance of those voices while we read. And yes, readers of fiction must do this to some extent, but they get much more description and exposition to aid them as they go along.

Anosh Irani’s Buffoon takes the challenge of reading drama further, as his play unfolds with a cast of one.

But that’s not to mistake this as an extended monologue. Buffoon is peopled with a range of supporting characters, but each of them must come to life via the actor who’s portraying the main character, Felix.

As the play opens, all we know of Felix is that he is in prison, though we know not what his crime may have been. The set is minimal – the only item on the stage with him is a chair. He is in chalk-face, like a clown who’s just begun applying his make-up.

It isn’t long before other characters appear – all thanks to the interpretations of them given to us by way of Felix.

It helps that nearly all of them have some identifying pattern of speech – a Russian accent, a British one, a Scots brogue. Nonetheless, the role of Felix and his task of presenting these many characters – men, women, children – young and old – is staggering.

I’ll admit that trying to envision a production of this work (and yes, it has been performed) requires a stretch of imagination. Yet reading it was satisfying, providing a different kind of experience than the last time I read Irani’s work (his novel The Parcel).

I see the work as being in the tradition of Absurdism, yet this may seem like a dismissal, though that is not my intent. Bearing similarities to the auto-fictions of Robert LePage, a deep thread of tenderness runs the length of it; a winsome Romanticism, somewhat akin to that in Cyrano de Bergerac, is inherent. Throughout this work Irani riffs on an apparently apocryphal quote that’s long been mistakenly attributed to Mark Twain: “…that the two most important days in your life are when you were born and when you find out why.” Birth, death, the impermanence of things; sometimes it takes a clown to reveal the most important truths.

Books by this highly original author have been widely honoured; he has twice been a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Third time may well be the charm.

ANOSH IRANI has published four critically acclaimed novels: The Cripple and His Talismans (2004), a national bestseller; The Song of Kahunsha (2006), which was an international bestseller and shortlisted for Canada Reads and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize; Dahanu Road (2010), which was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize; and The Parcel (2016), which was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His play Bombay Black (2006) won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play, and his anthology The Bombay Plays: The Matka King & Bombay Black (2006) and his play Men in White were both shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. Buffoon, his latest work of drama, was critically acclaimed and won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards, for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role. He lives in Vancouver.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Sept. 7 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 88 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487009836
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487009830

 -- Website

Heidi Greco lives and writes in Surrey, BC on the territory of the Semiahmoo Nation and land that remembers the now-extinct Nicomekl People. Her most recent book, Glorious Birds (from Vancouver's Anvil Press) is an extended homage to one of her favourite films, Harold and Maude, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021. More info at her website, heidigreco.ca

(Photo credit: George Omorean)