“Dear Jax,” managed to make me cry, laugh, and call my parents afterwards. The first production from To the Hilt Productions, created and performed by Stephen Maclean Rogers, and directed by Jean-Marc Leblanc, managed to capture the hearts and smiles of everyone in the room at the (nearly sold out) performance I went to. Before continuing, I just want to say: seriously, go see it.
The show allows us to peer into a wholesome relationship between mother and son. Susan, Stephen’s mother, was a journalist diagnosed with Aphasia, a condition that impairs language. Her mental health eventually deteriorates along with her speech. Throughout the short solo performance, we get to learn what happened to the two, their relationship, how she affected him, and about the incredible letters she wrote. Rogers’ storytelling masterfully conveys poignant emotions felt by a child (though not in age) losing their mother. The story told here is quotable and powerful. I’ll stay rather vague about the narrative, but I will say I’m tearing up just writing this review.
Rogers starts the piece with a monologue describing the diagnosis given to his mother. The intro is in heavy contrast with the rest of the performance, as its tone is serious and honestly made me dissociate a little from what was happening, which is often what happens to a patient when given a diagnosis. Smart. After the intro, Rogers’ upbeat energy and tender openness propels the rest of the narrative.
A fine point about Dear Jax, that I greatly appreciated, was just how well balanced it was in terms of emotion. Rogers never let you wallow too long in grief (or his grief, for that matter), often sprinkling in light moments. Seriously emotionally heavy subject matter is counteracted with a natural turn of phrase, or joke even. No light moments ever seemed forced, and they created lovely instances of an audience grinning through tear soaked smiles. It is important when presenting this sort of subject matter to an audience, especially when it’s something that almost everyone can relate to in a visceral way, to take care of them as well. Rogers does just that. For a show about the recent passing of a mother, there isn’t too much darkness. This makes the story much more accessible to all.
The performer was honest, vulnerable, dynamic, and open. The relationship Rogers develops with the audience is intimate and touching. There were full on 15 second silences (in between story segments) where the audience was completely focused and invested. No shuffling, coughing, or time checking occured. Everyone had laser focus throughout. They say audiences listen better when they laugh. Rogers’ sense of humor capitalised on that. His absolute rawness made us want to hear every word, every breath, and every sad inflection of his voice. The script can resonate with anyone, and it’s something I want to hear again.
There were few design elements in Dear Jax, and they all worked very well. Everything added to the performance. I would argue however, that the storytelling was strong enough on its own, and the show could have done with maybe one less lighting effect. As I keep reiterating, there was total audience investment. Our ears were salivating and our hearts were soft.
Again, go see this show. I recommend it to everyone. If you mix together a strong and nuanced performance, a touching kindred story, and a whole lot of emotion, you get Dear Jax. I cannot recommend this enough. I’ve never met Rogers, but after this show, I care about him. I think a truly successful performance is one where an audience member invests their time and money, and comes out caring and wanting more.
“WHO IT’S FOR”
This is a show for anyone who wants to have their heart strings tugged at, though be aware of the content warning of death/grief.
To The Hilt Productions presents “Dear Jax”
at the 29th St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival
Performances: June 6 – 16, 2019
Venue: 01 – Le Ministère
4521 Saint-Laurent, Montréal, H2T 1R2
Admission: $5 – 10 | Ages 16+
Check out all our other 70+ reviews
from this year’s fest on our Fringe page!
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