Four actors stand on stage. They move towards each other, and apart. They engage, and disengage. They spout mouthfuls of flowery verse, rich in imagery but poor in explanation. Nothing seems to make a whole lot of sense, yet.
It’s the opening scene of Yukon playwright Patti Flather’s latest, Paradise, as seen at rehearsal this week at the Yukon Arts Centre. Reporters and the public have been invited to sneak a peek and offer feedback as the artists prepare for opening night.
Over the coming scenes, the characters slowly reveal themselves. Though they often exist in a separate time or place, we begin to learn of the relationships between them, and a plot starts to unfold.
An unemployed logger comes to his doctor for help. He needs to convince the bureaucratic powers-that-be that his physical and metal scars merit consideration for some sort of financial assistance.
The doctor is himself struggling with his wife’s request for a divorce.
His daughter, meanwhile, is travelling Central America searching for something.
And her childhood friend Khalil is abroad too, somewhere else, on some sort of volunteer mission, before he is captured and taken by soldiers.
It’s a play about how we’re there for each other -and how we’re not -through the hard times, said Flather in an interview this week.
“For me, places where we gather and share a story together and find our own meanings in it, and also explore other people’s meanings – to me that’s just part of being in a community,” she said.
“We all love stories, we all need stories. We need stories to define who we are, our identities, and also how we are in a community: where we’re excelling, and where we have work to do as human beings in terms of supporting each other and the planet that we live on.”
It’s a story she’s been working on telling for many years. It comes out of both personal experiences and gathered stories from the world we live in, said Flather.
“I grew up in a family with a lot of love and laughter, and also with parents dealing with addictions and mental health issues. That was part of my upbringing, and I think that’s not atypical. I think a lot of us live with those challenges in our lives.”
Her family was hit with a major trauma in 1992, when her father, a physician, was shot and killed outside his house by a former patient.
The accused was found not criminally responsible in the death for reasons of mental illness.
Flather learned, through the criminal proceedings and the inquest into the death, about the ways our society had failed that man, and by consequence her father and her family, she said.
“I really found that so many people had encountered, had meetings with this man. And it really seemed like nobody either knew what to do with him or didn’t want to deal with him, or didn’t even think he had a problem. It was quite an eye-opener about how systems can really not help people when they’re really crying out for help.
“I was trying to explore that through theatre, the ways that we as individuals and as communities turn away when we really need to face people who are needing help.”
The production is a collaboration between Yukon’s Gwaandak Theatre and MT Space, a theatre company from Ontario.
Gwaandak has also partnered with the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, the Second Opinion Society and the Mental Health Association of Yukon.
The idea is to make sure the play resonates with the community, said Flather.
That’s part of the reason that rehearsals have been opened up to members of those groups and the public at large.
“I don’t think this is a play that has any clear answers or recipes. I guess I’m really hoping that people will embrace the opportunity to talk and explore and have a dialogue.”
There will be a opportunity for a facilitated discussion after every performance of the show.
There will also be a resource table with information about mental health and other services available in the Yukon.
The hope is that the play will encourage people who need help to ask for it, and for others not to turn away from those doing the asking, said Flather.
“I think that would be an outcome that I would like, is that we don’t want to just say, ‘Oh, somebody’s going to be alright. That person, they don’t really mean that. They’re not doing that badly, they don’t really need help. It’ll be OK, we don’t really need to deal with that.’”
Paradise, directed by Majdi Bou-Matar, will be performed March 25-28 at the Yukon Arts Centre, as part of NorthwesTel’s Behind the Curtain series. There will be a pay-what-you-can performance on March 24.
The play will also show on March 31 at the St. Elias Convention Centre in Haines Junction.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at