Former cab driver hits the literary fast lane [p. 24]

'I sometimes think of writing as more of an athletic event than an intellectual one," says former Toronto taxi driver George F. Walker, the playwright behind the Herzliya Theater's current production of Love and Anger. "I didn't drive fast as a cab driver, but everything else in my life moved at high speed. I suppose, with hindsight, getting into the writing profession quickly was inevitable." It's a profession Walker has been a part of for over 30 years. Though never trained as a writer, Walker's education at the "university of the streets" has allowed him to become one of Canada's most celebrated playwrights, one whose sense of humor and morality have stayed consistent throughout his lengthy career. Like most of Walker's other works, Love and Anger has a strong moral theme to it, telling the story of a down-at-the-heels 50-year-old lawyer who leads an assault on the corruption of a local media mogul. The 1989 play employs black humor to highlight social injustices and the efforts of a collection of ordinary citizens' to put matters right. Calling the play a "political fantasy," Walker says that he "was a different person and a different playwright" when he wrote Love and Anger, saying the play focuses on themes that can be found in other examples of his work from the period. His plays, he says, are about "the idea of answerability for all on some level, on both sides. There's even room for the so-called bad guys to voice their frustration with the so-called good guys." It's an idea he's been exploring in one form or another for 35 years, ever since he saw a Factory Theatre Lab poster requesting original scripts through the windshield of his Toronto cab in the early Seventies. Then in his mid-20s, Walker immediately got down to writing Prince of Naples, the debut play that began the long and fruitful association between Walker and the Factory. Walker spent the remainder of his 20s as a playwright-in-residence at the theater, serving as its artistic director between 1978 and 1979. His plays - there are now more than 20 of them - have been performed around the world, and he has received literary honors both in Canada and abroad. Over the years he's been associated with the Toronto Free Theatre, and spent a year as a playwright-in-residence at the New York Shakespeare Festival. "When I first started in theater I remember hearing about all these rules about how to write a play," Walker says now. "I didn't understand any of them. I thought a theater was just an empty space and [that] as long as you can make some kind of connection to the audience and hold its attention, you can fill [the space] any way you want." "I was blissfully ignorant but I suppose I was also willful in a way," he continues. "I hadn't had anything beaten out of me [by formal training]. I was just excited by the writing." That excitement got Walker into the profession with meteoric speed, and for a long period the young playwright averaged a new play every year. "Once Prince of Naples was accepted, things happened very quickly," he says. "That suited my temperament."