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That Elusive Spark

That Elusive Spark

Janet Munsil

Playwrights Canada Press

Finalist for the 2014 Governor General's Literary Award for Drama


“…a colourfully instructive and insightful romantic comedy about change and new beginnings.” —Bob Clark, Calgary Herald


 “…a wild theatrical romp.” —Louis B. Hobson, JAM!


A colourful romantic comedy that brings together the stories of Phineas Gage, a man who survived having an iron rod enter his brain in 1848, and Helen Harlow, a young neuropsychologist in the present day.


Neuropsychologist Helen Harlow is an expert at understanding the human brain, and yet her own remains a mystery. Turning her back on a once-brilliant future filled with scientific promise, Helen attempts to escape the mess of her life by diving headfirst into a new one: living in a frat-house basement, teaching Psych 101 to clueless freshmen, and confronting both her depression and the puzzling attentions of her slacker housemate Finlay. Pushed to the brink and increasingly desperate for some semblance of normalcy, Helen finds herself in a doctor’s office looking for a change. But not everyone chooses to change. Certainly not Phineas Gage, a construction foreman in 1848 who miraculously survives an explosion that shoots an iron rod though his head. While Phineas makes an extraordinary physical recovery, he has a dramatic change in personality. Attended to and observed by the young doctor John Harlow, Helen’s ancestor, the legacy of Phineas’s dramatic story shows how far we have come scientifically, and yet how little we can comprehend of the mystery of our own hearts and minds.


Janet Munsil is a Victoria-based playwright, and a graduate of the University of Victoria’s Phoenix Theatre program. She has been the artistic director and festival producer of Intrepid Theatre since 1992, where she produces the annual Victoria Fringe Festival, Uno Fest, and Winterlab. Her plays have been produced internationally and include The Ugly Duchess, Emphysema (a love story), and Circus Fire, among others. Recently, Janet was commissioned by Theatre Calgary and Canada’s National Arts Centre to adapt Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which won the Calgary Theatre Critics Award for Best Play of 2013.

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