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Play plumbs memory and loss

Brian Fidler's latest production, which explores the relationship between a boy and his grandfather who is suffering from Alzheimer's, has been a long time coming.

Brian Fidler’s latest production, which explores the relationship between a boy and his grandfather who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, has been a long time coming.

The seed of the play, Broken, comes from Fidler’s own experiences as a 10-year-old living with a grandparent who struggled with the disease.

But it’s taken a while for Fidler to be able to tell that story.

“I tried to write that play, and I couldn’t do it at all, I was falling apart, kind of.”

Next, he tried to animate his experiences through a puppet show, but it came out all wrong.

“I made that initial puppet show version of the story and it was really terrible,” Fidler said.

Like Goldilocks, Fidler found that the first attempt was too close, too personal, and the second was too distant, and “almost too much fun.”

In the latest incarnation of the story, Fidler hopes that he has found a balance that is just right.

An outline of the key story points survived from the puppet-show version.

Now, Fidler uses some puppetry and some physical theatre to tell the story in the way that he wants to tell it.

The basic plot surrounds the ritual of a grandfather showing slides and telling stories to his grandson.

Fidler plays the grandfather, the grandson as a boy, and the grown-up man remembering it all.

The play features a minimalist set and lo-fi technology, like a slide projector and an old-fashioned camera, the kind you look down into.

Objects have a special significance in the performance, as the grown-up grandson unpacks a box of his late grandfather’s things.

“There’s a care and a power in those objects that gives them a life,” Fidler said.


Fidler is used to improvisation, but for this performance every word and every movement have been carefully scripted.

The show is being directed by Maiko Bae Yamamoto, who calls herself a “helicopter director,” because she would hover right in Fidler’s face and make adjustments on the fly, he said.

“She was really the right director for me, because I can be kind of a mushy nice person in some ways, and she was just like, ‘You have to be much tougher than that, you have to be like a warrior to tell this story, you have to be disciplined and direct.’”

This incarnation of the play has been three years in the making, another change for Fidler, who usually just likes “to make stuff and get it out there.”

He worked with an actor and a dramaturg at the Playwright’s Theatre Colony on Granville Island in Vancouver to develop the script.

He then presented a workshop version of the play at Whitehorse’s 2010 Pivot Festival.

The most noticeable difference between that version of the play and the current one is that the character of the grown up grandson, who narrates the play, speaks directly to the audience.

The audience becomes a crucial element of the performance and interacts with Fidler to a limited extent.

“I don’t pull anyone up on stage and embarrass them or anything. I don’t make anyone dance or sit on my lap. It’s not the Frantic Follies, thank goodness.”

The performance will show in the studio near the back of the Yukon Arts Centre, with seating for only about 35 people.

“It’s really intimate. I think people are going to think that it’s a story just for them,” said Fidler.

Telling the story in the right way is more important to Fidler than any conventional idea of success, he said.

“If I don’t do it right, people will know, and say that that’s not a true representation of that kind of experience. So it’s almost like the stakes are kind of higher than a play, because in a play, things can be wrong if you sell it properly. But in this, you can’t, there’s no sell-job for that kind of truth.”

In this case, the truth is more about a feeling than about a factual representation of events. The plot of the play is only very loosely based in Fidler’s actual experience.

Fidler has spent the last week or so workshopping the play in front of test audiences, to make sure that the experience is authentic.

Getting used to a different relationship with his audience has been another hurdle for Fidler, who is used to performing comedy.

“In having those test audiences, I was kind of like, ‘They’re not laughing. Oh yeah, they’re not supposed to be laughing.’”

After every performance, Fidler will host a talk-back for anyone who wants to stick around to chat about the play. There will be a five-minute break so that anyone who wishes to leave can do so discreetly.

Broken runs Sept. 5-8 and 11-15 at the Yukon Arts Centre Studio, with performances beginning at 8 p.m. The play is about an hour long, and no latecomers will be admitted.

Tickets can be purchased for $22 online or at the Yukon Arts Centre box office.

Broken is a co-production between Nakai Theatre and Ramshackle Theatre.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at