On my last evening in Winnipeg for a week, my sis Lisa and I set out to PTE to see THE DECEMBER MAN, a story about what happens to a family in the aftermath of the Montreal Massacre at the Ecole Polytechnique.
This is an issue play: always a dicey gambit. If the show is great, you get "Commencement" about to be presented by The Winnipeg Fringe in March or "Scorched" which was done at the Warehouse last season. If it's not, you get this kind of thing: half polemic, half kitchen-sink drama, clumsily constructed and clunkily written. Not even the able Anne Hodges in the director's seat is able to save this thing from itself.
The narrative unfolds backwards (think Pinter's BETRAYAL) which can be an effective device. In this case it means we don't meet the protagonist until a third of the way through the play and spend a lot of time mired in a zone of domestic siege until then.
The actors do their best to make a meal of this mess of a script but it is tough slogging. Ron Lea fares best here finding both the humour and the pathos in Benoit, the working-class dad. Marina Stephenson-Kerr unfortunately never gets a grip on her accent and is stuck playing a badly-written, two-dimensional unsympathetic character: the nagging, overtly religious mother.
Tristan Carlucci as Jean gets the unhappy task of delivering most of the author's own musings on the tragedy: why did a room full of men leave a roomful of women to be shot by a lone gunman?
Jean's relationship with one of the deceased is alluded to but never developed in the narrative. That relationship, centred on the young people's ambitions for themselves instead of their family's aspirations for them might have given the play the poignancy and depth it clearly strives for and misses.
In fairness, I have to tell you, gentle readers, that my sister quite enjoyed it and was moved by it in ways that I was not. It also won the GG so I am in a dissenting minority position when I tell you I thought the script a mess.
Since survivor guilt is the play's main theme, there are at least two deaths too many. After a disaster like Montreal, it is living, not dying that's hard and leaves us here to wrestle with our consciences, our memories and our thoughts. Go, but make sure if you do, to also see COMMENCEMENT next month and compare this uneven if well intended offering at PTE with a truly great production of a brilliant play on the same theme.