Richie Wilcox’s Good Grief, at Ship’s Company Theatre in Parrsboro to Aug. 22, is a comic meditation on grief if such a thing is possible.
Wilcox, who has dealt with a lot of grief lately, intends Good Grief to be “my way of addressing the heaviness of the world with a light heart.”
There are some good laughs in this 90-minute play without intermission as three characters struggle with death, the fear of death and the journey of grief.
Danni is a non-binary 11-year-old in deep mourning for the one creature they loved the most – a cat. With the help of their Uncle Parker and his partner, Uncle Jaime, Danni stages an amusing though poignant life celebration complete with puppetry, slides and a hilarious dance.
This part of the play was first staged by Theatre for Young People at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Wilcox then expanded on it to write the story of Jamie’s experience of his mother’s death and Parker’s fear of death as he invites people to help him plan his funeral.
Much is familiar in terms of grief, regret and dread and how you relate will depend on your own experiences. As a gay couple Parker and Jamie have both been ostracized and hurt by their families, though this is an undercurrent. Danni is a non-binary teen and the trio is a wonderfully affectionate and loving one that copes with tragedy through wonderful songs and high-energy dancing.
Wilcox, artistic director at “The Ship,” directs Good Grief with strong performances and a fantastic design in terms of Aaron Collier’s sound, Jane-Pierre Cloutier’s set, Carmen Lee’s lighting and Alex McDougall’s costumes.
The set is a large, multi-panelled screen for projected images and beautiful patterns of light like church windows and a setting sun above a forest. Stage hands shift and shape this screen into an art gallery, an outdoor gazebo and a church hall.
Danni is a wonderfully well-written character and Rooks Field-Green, a trans/non-binary actor, is totally convincing and entertaining as the straight-talking tween, who dominates the first scene.
Stewart Legere is very moving as Jamie, a man who cannot cry and who struggles to process death in the context of guilt and fractured family relationships. Wayne Burns has great stage presence as Parker, a confident, caring character who is the core of this trio.
After a strong and rapid first scene, the pace changes in this triptych. Good Grief could use a stronger narrative arc. Any conflicts the characters experience are with people who are off-stage.
Good Grief is not specifically set in the Parrsboro area or Nova Scotia. It has an upbeat, urban sensibility in multi-media design, new ways of storytelling and the use of music from folk to Jann Arden to David Bowie.
Good Grief, says Wilcox, is “meant to be a conversation starter” and it sure does make you think about grief and ways of telling stories.
The play runs to Aug. 22, Wed. to Sat., 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available online at http://shipscompanytheatre.com, in person or by phoning (1-800-565-SHOW).