Kaleidoscope Theatre Montreal, best known for the Fringe-hit Captain Aurora musicals, is back at the Montreal Fringe Festival this year with something far more low-key, yet equally appreciable: Memento Mori – A Support Group for the Dead. Written and directed by Trevor Barrette, assistant-directed by Sarah Segal-Lazar, Memento Mori is a touching and thought-provoking piece delivered with impeccable skill and subtlety. With this intimate and immersive new work, Barrette proves himself innovative and versatile as a playwright and director.
For Memento Mori, audience and actors alike are seated in the round, attending a support group led by Mortimer (Barrette) – Mort for short – who provides snacks, guidance and a comforting presence throughout. (TAKE THE SNACKS! I didn’t dare, and I bitterly regret it.) The attendees come from a variety of backgrounds and share one single unifying trait: they are deceased. This small circle features an impressive cast of actors, including META and MECCA recipients Chip Chuipka and Leni Parker, as well as two-time META recipient Alex Petrachuk.
For a play in which death is so prominent, Memento Mori has quite a bit of humor. A lot of it comes from Mark (Chuipka), a self-described “strong person” who collects near-death experiences like they are badges of honor, and Kyle, a troubled young man who has made a fairly effective coping mechanism out of pranking his grieving family members – a notable debut performance by Gabriel Maharjan who graduated from the Dome theatre only a few weeks ago and is sure to be a welcome addition to the Montreal theatre community. Completing a solid cast are Derek Johns and Patrick Keeler who portray two of the more well-adjusted members of the support group.
Invited (or gently pressured) to share their thoughts and feelings on life, death and life after death, six beautifully complex characters revisit the months/minutes/moments leading up to their deaths. They speak from places of denial or confusion, pain or acceptance, but rarely comment on each other’s contributions. They speak in turns, picking up where they have previously left off in the telling of their own story, self-absorbed to a fault. The abrupt changes of topic are jarring at times. Still, witnessing these people open up to a group of strangers and speak their truth (a clearly difficult and deeply personal task for a number of them) makes for an inspiring and empathy-inducing experience, one that we could all stand to learn from.
A number of sound (Devon Bate) and lighting (Jon Cleveland) effects are quite impressive and unexpected from such a small, simple, and seemingly non-theatrical space, but at times they are rather distracting and provide an unwanted reminder that this group session is in fact a performance, though there are moments where they serve the piece well.
“Memento mori” translates to “remember that you will die”, and yes, everything about the play is a (somehow friendly) reminder of one’s own mortality. Yet, it is riddled with truths that easily apply to the living: the frustration with one’s own anonymity and invisibility, the what-ifs and might-have-beens, and of course the impossible question: “Would you go back, knowing what you know now?”
But Memento Mori is not depressing, not at all; in fact it is quite uplifting. Kaleidoscope has created an engaging display of honesty and vulnerability that suggests that our experiences are not quite as unique as we think they are, and perhaps by sharing them we can come together over our shared plight and hopefully feel less alone.
Mort sent me off with a “see you next week!” and – who knows? – he just might.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Contributor Violette Kay
Kaleidoscope Theatre Montreal presents
“Memento Mori – A Support Group for the Dead”
When: June 1-17 – Thursdays at 9:00 pm, Fridays at 11:00 pm, Saturdays at 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm
Where: The Freestanding Room, 4324 Blvd. St-Laurent, Suite 300
Duration: 1 hour
Box Office: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival