In Memorial, a play by Steven Gallagher playing as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival, Dylan (Mark Crawford), a terminally ill cancer patient is simultaneously planning both his wedding and his funeral.
Most of us, at one point or another, have morbidly fantasized about our own funeral. You’ve probably pictured your own memorial. Who would be there? What they would say about you? How would the flowers be arranged?
Dylan is intricately planning the details for his funeral which he plans to attend so he can hear all the nice things his loved ones will say. He even goes so far as to give his sister Ruth (Mary Francis Moore) notes as she rehearses her eulogy.
Behind this deceptively light pretext, Memorial is a sombre examination of death and the toll a chronic illness takes on loved ones and caregivers. Dylan, in the final stages of his terminal cancer, is insufferable; he is angry, bossy, temperamental, and mean. His long-suffering fiancé Trevor (Pierre Simpson) patiently endures Dylan’s tantrums but is nearing his wit’s end.
While it’s hard to see any of Dylan’s redeeming qualities in his current state, we witness some of the pivotal moments of his life as they “flash before his eyes.” Michelle Ramsay’s simple yet effective lighting design shifts from a cool to a warm colour palette to indicate when characters are in flashback.
But even in the earlier scenes of his life, I didn’t find Dylan to be a particularly likeable guy. He’s flawed and imperfect and not particularly remarkable in any way which makes him feel real. Dylan could really be any of us.
While the darkness of the show is tempered by the humour peppered throughout, I sometimes found the abrupt changes in tone from light to sombre a bit jarring. I also found some points, like Dylan’s illness making him angry and mean, a little laboured and thought some scenes could be shortened and the pacing tightened.
The performances are superb, the interactions between characters feel authentic and the cast is able to evoke emotion without relying on sentimentality. Pierre Simpson is a standout and turns in a remarkably layered performance as Dylan’s conflicted fiancé Trevor. He channels the complex mix of emotions; sadness, anger, guilt, frustration, helplessness that his character feels and makes Trevor the most compelling character in the show.
Memorial is bound to feel raw and hit close to home for anybody who has ever had to care for a chronically ill loved one. The show is an earnest, honest and thought-provoking portrayal of death and dying.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for all shows are $15 for Evening Performances (7:00PM and after start time), $12 for Afternoon Performances (6:59 or before start time) and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
- Showtimes and ticket information for Memorial are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Photo of Mark Crawford by Jacklyn Atlas