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Broken is a complex story of memory and loss told through generational ties

By Brian Carroll on February 13, 2014

55 minutes (no intermission) | Drama | G

Brian Fidler has dramatized his memories of his grandfather from when Fidler was around 10, and his grandfather came to live in Fidler’s parents’ basement. As Fidler points out early in the show, some of the props are real and some are stand-ins for what used to be. Similarly some parts of the story are factual, and some have been altered by dramatic license. The names have been changed.

For instance, Brian Fidler becomes William, or Will.

The play is set in 1985, when Will’s grandfather is beginning to show signs of forgetfulness. Some of the stories he tells Will are crystal clear, aided by his photographs, shown on a slide projector. Sometimes he repeats himself. Sometimes he forgets a story he’s already told. When Will fills in the details, his grandfather can react in multiple ways. For example he may simply not recognize his own stories, or he may get angry that Will is interrupting him.

Broken02Will’s grandfather served as a photographer in WWII, taking over 5000 pictures in a three year tour of duty. Included in that list is a published picture of one of his army buddies Bill McKenna. As he tells Will, the camera told him to take the picture. The camera gives you a feeling.

As the grandfather’s memory deteriorates, he develops paranoia, towards Will, towards Will’s mother.

He is particularly afraid that he will be relegated to a hospital. He makes a deal with young Will to break him out and bring him back home. A heavy responsibility for such a young boy. His grandfather’s part of the deal is that he will at last tell the story behind the Bill McKenna photograph.

Discussion in the lobby afterwards focussed on audience members common experience with the content of the play. Relatives and friends with Alzheimer’s. Or relatives and friends for whom some form of disability lead to paranoia.

The play handles its material with sensitivity and compassion. It stirs deep emotions in people with similar experience. Should you go, bring a friend and leave time for discussion afterwards.

I found some aspects of the production distracting. There’s a light bulb hanging from a retractable cord. As in Andy Massingham’s Rough House, this prop had frequent use during the play. Unlike Rough House, there were times when the symbolism was not obvious to me. Then I would lose track of where Fidler was going. I can’t say that the opening night audience were any better off.

That said, this a compassionate exploration of a disease shared by some of our friends and relatives. A fate that some of us will face in our future. A worthy trigger to after theatre discussion. My thanks to Patrick Gauthier and GCTC for taking a chance on this production.

Broken by Ramshackle Theatre is playing at the Undercurrents Festival at the Great Canadian Theatre Company February 13th at 9PM, 14th at 9PM and 15th at 1PM. Single tickets are $15 + HST. A three show pass is $40 + HST. A six show pass is $60 + HST.