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Walterdale Theatre's The December Man a grim, compelling play

An exploration of violence and its destructive nature
1011 Walterdale sup CC
Filip Fufezan and Christine Gold (St. Albert Dinner Theatre) face the disintegration of family dynamics after a horrific act of violence in The December Man playing at Walterdale Theatre until Nov. 13. SCOTT HENDERSON/Photo

REVIEW

The December Man

Runs until Dec. 13

Walterdale Theatre

10322 83 Ave., Edmonton

Tickets: $26.50 at www.tixonthesquare.ca

Turn on the TV and violence and death are part of daily news feeds. Phrases such as “collateral damage” and “PTSD” once used exclusively as military terms are now part of the everyday lexicon describing mental health. 

Walterdale Theatre’s deeply moving production of The December Man takes audiences away from the cameras to the aftermath of a university shooting. Playwright Colleen Murphy, who received the Governor General’s award for literary drama, explores the ripple effects of violence as it destroys the tightly-knit Fournier family.  

The narrative’s root is the 1989 Montreal Massacre, where mass murderer Marc Lepine killed 14 women claiming he was “fighting feminism.” He also wounded an additional 10 women and four men at École Polytechnique de Montréal before turning a semi-automatic rifle on himself. 

Rather than retell the bleak facts, Murphy tells this historically-relevant narrative by focusing on Jean (Filip Fufezan), a fictional male student who survived the massacre and who suffers from an extreme form of survivor’s guilt. Tragically, his working-class parents, Benoît (J. Nelson Niwa) and Kathleen (Christine Gold), watch their son struggle inside a prison of guilt unable to understand or assist. 

The narrative structure is told in reverse chronology. The first scene leaves the theatregoer questioning what is happening. However, as the plot unfolds, the production coalesces and builds to a powerful punch.  

A lesser playwright than Murphy may have focused solely on the repercussions of violence and misogyny. As a multi-layered storyteller, Murphy digs deeper, bringing attention to how issues such as inequality, poverty, and day-to-day resentments can cripple the mind. 

Kathleen and Benoît have powered through difficult times encouraging their son’s post-secondary education. They have pinned all their dreams on him. To the couple, he is a beacon of light they speak about with pride and profound love. Unfortunately, Jean’s guilt is all-consuming and destroys his will to live as they helplessly stand by.  

This is heart-wrenching material, and the performances are persuasive and compelling. Fufezan’s Jean is a sweet young man in the grips of terrible depression and guilt. Tormented by dreams, he speaks to the dead and hates himself for not stopping the massacre.  

As bewildered parents, Gold’s Kathleen smothers Jean with nagging and at times caustic comments. On the other hand, Niwa’s more easy-going Benoît, who is very much under Kathleen’s thumb, attempts to reach his son but is ineffectual. Despite their parental inadequacies, there is never a moment the audience doubts their love for Jean. 

The play’s subject matter is grim, yet everyone balances the material with sensitivity. Director Alex Hawkins uses a deft hand to even out the everyday bland chatter against the backdrop of darker, more poignant moments. 

The December Man is an excellent play, but it can be chilling. As the play concludes, a video screen flashes the Canadian Mental Health Association’s phone number. In that instant, one realizes they, too, might need the contact at an unexpected moment.

Walterdale Theatre requires patrons to wear masks at all times and seats are socially distanced every two metres.  


Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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