Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Memorial (Next Stage)

Mark Crawford
(Photo Credit: Jacklyn Atlas)

The New Year starts...well
by Shannon Christy

Memorial is a play about a larger than life character, “Dylan” (Mark Crawford), losing this big life to cancer and planning his memorial with his longtime fiancé, Trevor (Pierre Simpson), and his sister, Ruth (Mary Francis Moore). However, this is not a play about death as much as it is a play about life.  This has been written so many times that it is becoming cliché but Playwright Steven Gallagher, Director D Jeremy Smith, Dramaturg Toby Malone, and Lighting Designer Michelle Ramsay have achieved a truly great work.

They do this by taking us on a journey through Dylan’s life. This is quite the feat given that the stage consists of a bed, two rugs, a chair, and several empty frames hanging by wires in the air. Lighting Designer Michelle Ramsay is instrumental in aiding the audience by employing different hues to signify the past and present. The past is represented by bright amber while the present is a sombre blue.

Throughout all these events we have humour.

Dylan is presented to us with both warts and diamonds. As they narrate the major events in his life either Ruth or Trevor will insert a corresponding picture into one of the empty frames hanging on the stage.  This way we are introduced to Dylan’s first date, the first time he met Trevor, the moment he and Trevor helped Ruth with her first delivery, etc… These are the diamonds. The warts come back in the form of that sombre blue light of the present where we watch a man completely comfortable with himself abusing and mistrusting those who love him because he cannot face the fact that he is going to die. 

Throughout all these events we have humour. When Ruth presents Dylan with her prepared eulogy he blows up, irate that she mentions that he was an “overweight know-it-all” until 16 years old, when firstly he had stopped being so at 12 and secondly, there are so many better things she should say instead. When Dylan is introduced to Trevor we find an opinionated irresistible charmer who insults Trevor while complimenting him at the same time. Mark Crawford’s timing and delivery are exactly what is needed to provide the humour and personality to Dylan. 

Trevor is the good guy. This is the man who is watching his fiancé fall apart. This is a man who has elected to provide Dylan with personal care from home and constantly battling with the notion that he may have made a mistake. His is a life that has been transformed from a lover’s bliss to a personal caregiver being berated for trying to provide his partner with nutrients and much needed medicine. Pierre Simpson is outstanding in this role. He is not the two dimensional character you would fear, simply going through the motions of preparing for death. He is struggling with himself, the man he loves, and being alone; he is frustrated and he is angry. You can hear this justified frustration in his voice - it wavers between stifling tears and angrily wanting to scream at the top of his lungs that Dylan is the man he loves and Dylan is a complete asshole.

Ruth is the outsider; the interloper who feels guilty because her life has not allowed her to be there and wants to help if only someone would tell her how she can. Ruth walks us through Dylan as the boy and is volunteering to help Trevor deal with Dylan the monster. Mary Francis Moore is gifted at portraying someone who has had to deal with Dylan and his personality. She is a no-nonsense woman who speaks bluntly and does not want anyone taking advantage of her big baby brother. 

This is a great play that presents a personal tragedy with a sensible comical light. There is one major thing wrong, though: it will not be here long. If you have the means do find a way to get to this show and if you do not have the means then figure out a way to sneak in. 

Memorial is part of Next Stage

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