Never doubt the power of theatre to tap into the human soul and wrench it.
The December Man, a HomeFirst production at the Bus Stop Theatre to Dec. 5, is exceptionally powerful and painful theatre delivered by a top-notch, Nova Scotia team.
Colleen Murphy’s superbly crafted, Governor General’s Award-winning drama explores the trauma of the Montreal Massacre in a fictional story about a guilt-ridden male student at École Polytechnique and the working class parents who adore him.
The play begins a few years after Dec. 6, 1989 – the day 14 female students at École Polytechnique were murdered – then goes backwards in time for an electrifying ending.
The December Man starts on a highly-charged emotional note with tears streaming down the faces of the actors. And it never lets go.
Nova Scotia’s Martha Irving and Hugh Thompson pour their hearts and souls (and tears) into their roles to create very believable people as the loving/fighting Québécois couple of Kathleen and Benoit Fournier. Zach Faye mines the aggression, tenderness and despair in the Fourniers’ troubled son Jean Émile.
Both Irving and Thompson find the key notes in their characters with dashes of playfulness and love; then depths of grief and turmoil. As a cleaner of rich people’s homes, the religious Kathleen dreams of the day her son will graduate (in an unforgettable passage of dialogue). Benoit is a hard-working mechanic who likes his drink and his TV but, as Thompson portrays him, is a loving husband and father.
Director Mary Vingoe crafts a very fine production which is subtle and elegant in design yet potent and charged in acting and movement.
There is great attention paid to detail in Sue LePage’s period, Québécois livingroom set and in the different seasons and stages of these ordinary lives. The August heat is palpable; the winter chill apparent. The audience lives with the Fourniers on late afternoons of knitting, TV-watching, tree decorating or helping a kid with a school project.
There is a lovely softness with slow, felt changes in the lighting design by Holly Meyer-Dymny. Steven Naylor’s sound design is delicate and intelligent. The creative team also includes costume designer Krista Levy Odlin, who found just the right, satiny, pale-green, fancy dress for Kathleen; technical director Matt Downey; production stage manager Jeana MacIsaac and assistant stage manager Sarah Wakely.
In the program notes Vingoe says she was drawn to The December Man (2007) because of “its compassion for the human condition,” its reverse order structure “showing us the “what if only’ all the way along” and its exploration of the “long private shadow that public violence casts” – something not often realized or recognized in the forward march of day-to-day news.
Warning: It’s best not to go alone. While there is some humour, Murphy portrays universals of human experience at their deepest and darkest. (There is an “active listener” at each performance if an audience member needs to talk to someone.)
The reverse order of time can be confusing. Make sure you look to the screen on the left to get the time period.
The December Man runs at 100 minutes without intermission at the Bus Stop, 2203 Gottingen St., Halifax. Tickets are $25 and $15 for underwage/accessible at homefirsttheatre.com
Tickets are free for support people. Cash only at the door. To contact the box office email firstname.lastname@example.org. (Proof of vaccination is required for admittance.)
Remaining shows are: tonight, Dec 1, 8 p.m. (ASL Interpreted); Thursday, Dec 2, 8 p.m., (Heightened Narration); Friday, Dec. 3, 8 p.m. (ASL Interpreted); Saturday, Dec 4, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 5, 2 p.m.
Also tonight, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., there is a panel discussion on gender-based violence held by YWCA Halifax and HomeFirst Theatre for the YWCA’s December 6th Fund at the Bus Stop. Attendance is free, donations to the December 6th Fund are welcome. (If you are attending the panel you can access a cash, PWYC ticket at the door for the show following the panel).
The December Man is being streamed 2 p.m. Dec. 5; a link will be sent the day of the show to those who have bought a ticket.