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Review From The House: The December Man

The December Man by Colleen Murphy
Directed by Patrick McDonald
Performance Works
Green Thumb Theatre
Nov 20 to Dec 7, 2008

Bridget O'Sullivan, Charlie Gallant and Ron Lea. Photo by David Cooper

Vancouver, BC:
The December Man ends on a note of such painfully tragic dramatic irony that on  the night I saw it the audience sat silent for a seemingly endless time before the applause began. Colleen Murphy's powerful play shows us in stark simplicity that the devastation wrought by violence extends far beyond those who are, at first glance, the only victims.

Drawing from the incident in the 1989 massacre at Montreal's École Polytechnique when Lepine, armed with a semi-automatic weapon forced the male students to leave a classroom, leaving nine women behind to be shot, Murphy shows how the guilt and shame engendered in one of these young men ultimately destroyed him and his family. Although at the time some people questioned how these men could have left the women to face an obviously deranged and dangerous man, it is difficult to imagine how anyone would react differently with an automatic weapon pointed at  one's head.  Be that as it may, many of the students involved experienced profound psychological disturbances that lasted years after the event and several committed suicide.

Murphy  uses reverse chronology to show the enduring impact on one such student, Jean Fournier (Charlie Gallant)  and his parents Benoit (Ron Lea) and Kathleen (Bridget O'Sullivan). The action takes place through a series of 8 scenes in the Fournier living room  (set designer,Omanie Elias). The large cross hanging over one of the doorways speaks to the all-consuming adherence to religion and the appearance of piety that blocks Kathleen from having any insight or understanding into her son's profoundly wounded psyche, until it is too late. Benoit, a much more sympathetic figure, senses the damage but does not know how to help.  All three actors project such authentically  compelling performances that one is inexorably drawn deeper and deeper with them as they travel back in time to the root event. 

This is painful stuff but brilliant theatre. Well written, sensitively directed and powerfully performed. It runs till tomorrow. Catch it if you can.