Ken Smedley started writing the play in 1986 but found it as relevant as ever when it was published earlier this year.
The Rocky Mountain Prophet — A Tragedy In Three Acts, published by Rich Fog Micro Publishing in Vernon, is the life-long playwright’s most recent work and the eighth of Smedley’s published productions with Rich Fog.
Following the life of Uri Gregarious, an internationally renowned author known as The Rocky Mountain Prophet for his work giving a voice to the disenfranchised, Smedley’s play was inspired by events that followed the Vietnam War.
“There was an influx of refugees known as Vietnamese boat people. It was a bit of a contentious issue,” Smedley said. “(There was) a degree of skepticism in relation to taking in refugees.”
Gregarious, Smedley’s protagonist, is on his way home to Hinterland after a three-week trip to China after the conclusion of the war. Ever the ‘Rocky Mountain Prophet,’ Gregarious takes in one of such Vietnamese boat people he finds eating garbage from the dumpster behind his Hong Kong hotel. Smedley’s protagonist sponsors the beautiful young woman and brings her back to Canada where he intends to collaborate with her on an upcoming novel.
“This was kind of the perfect storm for him,” Smedley said.
But, when Gregarious returns home, he finds a myriad of problems awaiting his attention and life soon gets in the way of his plan.
Gregarious’ wife doesn’t want the refugee in their home, his father has returned and is on his deathbed, his stepson is adamant that the now-penniless Gregarious should purchase Hinterland’s hospital slated for demolition in hopes of converting the building to an arts centre and his publisher wields a three-week deadline above Gregarious like a sledgehammer.
“He’s got one thing after another. He becomes suddenly overwhelmed with all the different difficulties in his life,” Smedley said. “He’s backed into a corner and he’s trying to write his way out. As the play progresses, it continues to get worse.”
A true tragedy of classic Greek proportions, The Rocky Mountain Prophet denotes a new exploration for the Armstrong playwright and one that is as relevant now as when he wrote the first draft in 1986.
“When it comes to the plight of the disenfranchised, there are people in this society that do stand out for people that are voiceless. We’re at a point in our own country where we’re beginning to question,” Smedley said. “In Europe, it’s just one day after the next that these boat people come from all over Africa. It’s an unbelievable situation when you consider the scale of it.”
Smedley said that he often draws from the real world for his productions. And, despite having several published works, the magic never dissolves.
“There’s a real sense of satisfaction in actually getting the piece published. You really realize that in creating it and producing at this level it has been an effect of your own evolution and it’s a product of the self. There’s a definite degree of satisfaction that comes with realizing the fact that you created this ultimately for yourself and it’s an expression that’s validated,” Smedley said, adding that he one day hopes to see The Rocky Mountain Prophet on stage.
“You just never know — theatre is a crap-shoot. You’re a bit of an anomaly to be even doing such a thing. It’s not the most marketable work that exists. It’s a labour of love.”
Smedley has travelled the globe for his work in the theatre. He was a founding member of what is now the Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops where be began his playwright career. He was later employed in professional repertory theatre in England before living and writing in Mexico from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s.
He has also acted in numerous plays and made his directorial debut with George Ryga’s controversial production Captives of the Faceless Drummer in 1975. From 1995 to 2012, Smedley was also the artistic director of the George Ryga Centre. This year, Smedley participated in Caravan Farm Theatre’s National Playwrights Retreat alongside writers such as Peter Anderson, Scott Maynard, John Millard and Tracey Power.
And while he has done it all, Smedley said his heart belongs to writing.
“Ever since I was 16, I’ve been writing plays. It’s always been an outlet for my inner self to work at the craft of creating theatre,” Smedley said. “I’ll continue – that’s what I am and have been since adolescence. I’ll always continue to work as a playwright.
“At the end of it all when all is said and done, the play will be there as a legacy.”